The last of the T-5 petroleum tankers, the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC)-owned, Ocean Ships-operated USNS Lawrence H. Gianella has completed its final mission for the U.S. Navy. The SIU-crewed vessel sailed to Norfolk, Virginia, as part of National Maritime Day, bringing the tanker’s storied history to a close. The vessel was crewed by SIU members in all three departments.
The final crew of the USNS Gianella included Captain Robert J. Mills III, Chief Mate Robert Grove, 2nd Mate Tian Chi, 3rd Mate Dillon Davidson, 3rd Mate Jeffrey Harcq, Bosun Nicholas Hoffman, ABG Owen Hammond, ABG Lionel Hall, ABG Lloyd La Beach, ABG Matthew Furlong, ABG Adam Ropp, Chief Eng. Daniel Lee, 1st Asst. Engineer Jonathan Miller, 2nd Asst. Eng. Charlie Umali, Pumpman Richard Lawson, QMED Bernard Smalls, QMED Samuel Sanders Jr., DEU Eric Jackson, DEU Shawn Smith, Chief Steward Michael Sanders Jr., Chief Cook Linda McPhetridge, GSU Rhonda Williams and GSU Brandon E. Bob.
ABG Hall remarked, “She was a great ship, and we’re sad to see her go. It’s weird being on a ship that’s about to get mothballed, sort of like putting a great old car out to pasture. We all figure with a spit shine and a fresh coat of paint, she’d be sailing another 40 years.”
Chief Steward Sanders Jr. said that although the vessel’s service life is ending, “The galley was still nice. The galley and the mess halls were in great shape, not at all out of date.”
Sanders added, “We were able to attend the Maritime Day event in Norfolk, Virginia, thanks to the company (Ocean Ships). That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be there with the ship serving as the background, and see the vessel off.”
The USNS Gianella, christened in 1986, had a primary role of performing point-to-point delivery of petroleum products to Department of Defense storage and distribution facilities worldwide. A 615-foot tanker, the Gianella had a capacity of 237,766 barrels and a top speed of 16 knots.
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is the last and longest-serving U.S. government-owned champion class T-5 tanker,” said Matthew Sweeney, MSC tanker project officer. “As the longest-serving T-5 Tanker she moved more petroleum for the U.S. military than any other vessel in U.S. military history.”
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella was the last of five T-5 tankers built,” said Capt. Mills III, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella’s ship master since 1998. “The Gianella is a liaison between commercial petroleum terminals and Department of Defense fuel facilities around the world.”
The other T-5 tankers in the U.S. Navy’s inventory were the SIU-crewed MV Gus. W. Darnell, USNS Paul Buck, USNS Richard G. Matthiesen and USNS Samuel L. Cobb.
The vessel has a long and interesting history, all involving SIU crews since the ship was christened. The Gianella has provided direct support to U.S. troops in multiple wars, performed notable rescues at sea, and took part in almost countless military exercises.
Additionally, “USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is fitted with reinforced framing on the hull which allowed us to sail through icy waters to support the annual resupply missions Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica and Operation Pacer Goose at Thule Air Base, Greenland, in the Arctic,” said Mills. “We have supported a total of 11 of these missions.”
The ship earned a passage in the U.S. military’s book of “first times” when a successful underway replenishment operation was completed with the aircraft carrier USS Independence in the Persian Gulf in 1992. The port-side-to-starboard-side fuel transfers while underway, which took place in late July, is believed to be the first time a civilian-operated tanker replenished a combatant ship of this class under operational conditions, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Navy’s chief of information.
The Gianella was involved in a rescue in 2007, saving the lives of 13 Cuban refugees whose boat had suffered engine failure in the Gulf of Mexico. The rescued men and women were given medical attention, and fed and housed by the crew of the Gianella until they were transferred over to a Coast Guard boat.
However, the vessel has primarily served in military operations throughout its history. It is capable of providing underway replenishment at-sea services with combatants using the modular fuel distribution system (MFDS), according to Sweeney.
“During the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella supported U.S. fleet and convoy operations in the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf by providing fuel consolidation CONSOL) support to MSC fleet oilers,” Sweeney said. “The ship also provided CONSOL and petroleum logistics support for Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.”
“While in the MSC inventory, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella has incurred minimal down time and its length of time in service is a testament to how well this ship was built,” said Mills. “We have typically been crewed by 23 civilian mariners and occasionally travel with two maritime academy cadets.
“We, the crew of USNS Lawrence H. Gianella, feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve aboard this ship,” Mills concluded. “Serving aboard this ship has been very much like serving with family.”
Upon deactivation, the USNS Lawrence H. Gianella will be placed in layup in coastal Texas.