By Travis Weger
In a partnership between U.S. and Italian navies, Military Sealift Command Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Yuma (T-EPF 8) completed the first-ever refueling by an EPF at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Gaeta, Italy, Nov. 6.
NSA Gaeta, home of Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), had been looking to expand the capabilities of the base and the team saw the opportunity to refuel Yuma while they were in port for a routine port visit.
“We would like to make Gaeta the greatest one-stop-shop for EPFs in this theater,” said Master Logistics Support Representative Sebastian Guercia, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Gaeta. “It is safe and cost-effective. This is a tremendous opportunity for the EPFs.”
It took several meetings and high-level coordination between both U.S. and Italian navies for the refueling to happen. Since this was the first time this had ever been completed with an EPF, safety was the top priority and all factors had to be taken into play.
“Today’s mission was successful thanks to the teamwork displayed by both the Marina Militare Italiana and the United States Navy,” said Comandante di Corvetta Francesco Brengola, Installation Base Commander. “Our goal now is to increase our capabilities here, not only for this class of vessel and the USS Mount Whitney, but other US and NATO ships as well.”
EPFs are aluminum-hulled ships and require special consideration and equipment for mooring to the pier. The refueling pier, having different configuration than typical piers, needed to be tested before the ship could berth alongside.
Guercia asked the Master of USNS Trenton (T-EPF 5), the last ship to stop in Gaeta, to slowly sail by the pier as an initial test to see if an EPF would fit. As the ship exited the harbor, Guercia confirmed it would based on an approximate measurement and began making arrangements with the Master of Yuma to refuel at the pier during the ship’s next visit.
Discovering that mooring at the pier was a possibility, the team in Gaeta began working with the Italian Navy for the requirements for Yuma to refuel.
“I talked to Capt. Cook from USNS Yuma, and he was more than happy to try it out,” said Guercia. “Long story short, the ship is here and berthed perfectly.”
Local Sailors from the Italian Navy were on station to receive lines and tie up the ship. Once Yuma moored to the pier, MSC civil service mariners began working with the Italian team to deliver the fuel.
“This means they can really extend their capacity and provide all sorts of services, not just to this vessel but potentially with NATO as well,” said Protocol Officer Joe Maddock, NSA Gaeta. “For us, this is a big deal.”
Availability of a port that has capabilities for refueling and maintenance an hour north of U.S. Sixth Fleet headquarters, where MSC Europe and Africa’s staff is located, opens opportunities for local access. This gives engineers and staff availability to drive to the ship from the office, if needed.
“We still have a few more things we need, such as dredging, shore power and to restore some of the fuel lines, but once we have those, NSA Gaeta will be the greatest one-stop-shop,” said Guercia. “Everything today went off without a hitch; it is one for the history books.”
After the refueling, Commodore, Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and Commander, Task Force 63 Capt. Frank Okata presented the Maritime Excellence Award over video chat for Yuma’s outstanding work in the Sixth Fleet Area of Responsibility for 2019. The award was given for Yuma’s operations and exercises in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, including Austere Challenge, Neptune Falcon, Agile Spirit and Sea Breeze.
The celebration was during a changeover of Masters, with Capt. Christopher Cook and Capt. David Gommo both present to receive the plaque and pennant.
“This is a huge day for both the United States and Italian navies,” said Okata. “We are honored to not only recognize Yuma’s crew for the great work throughout the year but to also highlight the partnership between our two great nations. I would like to also personally thank Comandante di Corvetta Francesco Brengola for taking care of our personnel in Gaeta.”
MSC operates approximately 125 naval auxiliary civilian-crewed ships, replenishes U.S. Navy ships, strategically prepositions combat cargo at sea and moves military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners around the world.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national security interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.