Although a few months elapsed between the time the SIU-crewed M/V Liberty entered U.S. registry and the formal commemoration of its re-flagging, fresh enthusiasm was evident June 2 at the ship’s naming ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao headlined the guestspeaker lineup – a group that also featured SIU President Michael Sacco; Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM); Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority; Eric Ebeling, president and CEO of vessel owner American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier (ARC); and AMO Assistant Vice President Christian Spain. Peggy McMaster, wife of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, christened the ship. SIU Vice President Contracts George Tricker also attended.
Built in 2006, the Liberty is 656 feet long and has a beam of approximately 106 feet. It is enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), which proponents describe as vital to America’s national defense capabilities. ARC called the vessel “one of the most versatile and militarily useful ships to the U.S.- flag commercial fleet.”
“On behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, I congratulate the ARC team and welcome M/V Liberty to the Maritime Security Program fleet,” said Sec. Chao. “Liberty’s entry into the MSP has substantially increased our ability to meet key U.S. Department of Defense force projection requirements. And Liberty is the eighth ARC vessel to enter the MSP, joining seven others already in service. So, let me also acknowledge the contributions of ARC to the MSP, national defense, and the U.S. Merchant Marine.”
Sacco pointed out that the SIU is “totally dedicated to our role as America’s fourth arm of defense, and we are committed to helping ensure the success of our contracted operators. On that note, I congratulate Eric and his whole team at ARC. On behalf of everyone at the SIU, we respect and appreciate your commitment to Americanflag shipping. We also value your partnership as we work together to help revitalize the U.S. Merchant Marine.”
Lyons stated, “ARC plays a significant role in our nation’s commitment to the security of our nation and our NATO allies. We can’t underestimate the strategic impact of global images depicting the arrival of an armored brigade combat team on ARC’s Resolve, Endurance, and Freedom, or the arrival of a combat air brigade on Endurance and Honor. And now we are happy to welcome Liberty to the fleet.”
Formerly the M/V Topeka, the M/V Liberty was re-flagged to American registry on Jan. 31 as the eighth RO/RO vessel in ARC’s fleet (all crewed by Seafarers). The reflag was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard in the port of Bremerhaven, Germany.
During last month’s ceremony, Ebeling referenced the decline of the U.S.-flag fleet in recent years from approximately 120 ships to the current 81 vessels, as cargo volumes have declined due to the changing overseas military footprint, lack of a fully functioning Ex-Im Bank, and other factors. However, he also noted, “With this incredible partnership between industry, labor, DOT and DOD … there is good cause for optimism for the renewal of the fleet, as represented by this great ship we’re celebrating here today.”
In her remarks, Sec. Chao concurred, adding “I know of no better public-private partnership” than MSP.”
The Liberty can carry tracked vehicles, helicopters, trucks and other military and high and heavy project cargoes.
Established as an initial 10-year program in 1996, the MSP has been extended several times, most recently to the year 2025 (through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013). The program maintains up to 60 privately owned, U.S.-flagged, American-crewed commercial ships that are available to the Defense Department as needed. It has always enjoyed bipartisan backing, and is considered a significantly affordable bargain for the government.
Through directly related agreements, the U.S. also gains access to portions of a global, intermodal transportation network.
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