by DAVID AXE
The crew and mission staff aboard the Austin-class amphibious ship Nashville (pictured), commissioned in 1970, were in for a surprise when the 570-foot vessel approached the tiny port in Libreville, the bustling capital of Gabon, in West Africa. Despite earlier assurances from Navy planners and local officials, it turned out that the waters around Libreville’s Port Mole weren’t deep enough for the 17,000-ton-displacement Nashville. While the ship draws only 23 feet, fully loaded, she needs extra clearance for her pumps to draw in the seawater required by her old-fashioned steam power-plant. Nashville simply wouldn’t fit at Libreville.
That discovery put a wrench in carefully laid plans for the Navy’s second, roughly annual “Africa Partnership Station” deployment, calling at Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. APS, the brainchild of former 6th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Harry Ulrich, is meant to “enhance and develop maritime safety and security capability and capacity in West and Central Africa,” according to Captain Cindy Thebaud, commodore for Nashville‘s mission. APS uses naval vessels as mobile school-houses, repair shops and medical clinics, calling at various African ports with a diverse international mission staff to deliver training, material, scientific and humanitarian aid to regional governments.
Better port reconnaissance is one lesson from Nashville‘s deployment. There have been other, more important, lessons — gleaned by all the major APS participants:
* Thebaud and her staff identified a need for: longer stays in fewer ports; more interpreters and foreign staff officers with broad language skills; and more appropriate platforms, perhaps anchoring the major APS deployments on smaller, shallower-draft vessels such as Swift – or at least using new, gas-turbine-powered amphibious ships that don’t require ports as deep as do older vessels with their steam boilers.
To read the rest, subscribe to the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings.
(Photo: David Axe)
Africa Handshake series