SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — With a large portion of its crew living on a nearby berthing barge, the USS Essex is undergoing an extensive maintenance, repair and upgrade period estimated to be complete by the end of September.
“This SRA [ship restricted availability] period is seen as a sustainment SRA,” said Essex skipper Capt. Marty Keaney from just outside the hangar bay Friday.
“Just like a house, she needs a new air conditioning compressor, and maybe refurbishing of a room or two, and particularly in our areas [of operation], new nonskid surfacing, which lasts only about two years.”
The amphibious assault ship is 15 years old, he said, and accommodates a crew of about 1,100. Of those, 728 are living on the barge while the repairs, which started in late June, are under way.
“The largest project is probably the removal of the fuel and lubrication piping, big 8-inch piping,” Keaney said. “That’s basically the life blood and arteries of the fueling and lubrication system. It’s a patience job.”
Various engine room projects also are taking place.
“We have two major boilers being opened and cleaned, and we’re doing some habitability work for the berthing of the crew,” Keaney said. “The entire air division berthing is being renovated. The operations department male sanitary spaces and the head are being brought into the 21st century … .”
In 2004, the ship was under way 236 days, with 180 spent conducting combat security and stability operations in the northern Persian Gulf. Early this year, the Essex participated in disaster relief missions in South Asia after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis.
The berthing barge is a converted active ship commissioned the USS Mercer on Aug. 7, 1944.
“Using a berthing barge during SRA saves the Navy an awful amount of money, but you’ve [got] to put your money where your mouth is,” Keaney said.
“Pacific Fleet has done that,” he said, adding the barge is in “excellent condition.”
“It’s small, but the AC is good and it’s nice and clean,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Tracy Jones. “You just have to be careful about bumping your head when you move around in there.”
Recent modifications to the barge added female berthing spaces.
“I like it because it has adequate space and you’re able to sleep in there. It’s cool and comfy and not secluded where it’s like you just have this little spot,” said Fireman Chelsea Francis. “It’s easy to clean; I just finished berthing cleaning.”
She said the women in her berthing area like the barge better than the ship’s berthing.