USNS Lawrence H. Gianella, USNS Laramie Conduct skin-to-skin lightering fuel transfer

Military Sealift Command’s petroleum tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella (T-AOT 1125) and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) conducted a skin-to-skin lightering fuel transfer at sea, Nov. 28.

“Lightering is the process of transferring fuel from one tanker to another tanker while away from a port,” said Capt. William Wiggins, USNS Laramie’s master. “Lightering usually takes place between a commercial Very Large Crude Container (VLCC) tanker ships and a smaller tanker. Normally, a VLCC has too deep of draft to pull into port so they offload their fuel to a smaller tanker.”

The fuel transfer mission began early in the morning before sunrise when Gianella pulled approximately 10 feet away from the port-side of Laramie. Gianella had a series of marine bumpers attached to the side of its hull to prevent damage to the two vessels during the evolution.

“This evolution was another example of MSC exploring alternate techniques, processes and capabilities to ensure our combatant fleet receives the fuel and supplies needed to succeed,” said Chris Douglas of MSC’s fleet replenishment oiler program. “We were able to successfully transfer fuel from the Gianella to Laramie using a fuel line typically used by commercial super-tankers.”

Once in position, members of both ships’ deck departments secured the two ships together with mooring line which were affixed both forward and aft.

Once secured, contract mariners attached to Gianella sent over a commercial super tanker fuel line to civil service mariners aboard Laramie.

Fuel lines used by commercial petroleum tankers are a different diameter than the fuel pumping and receiving stations aboard the two U.S. naval ships. To adjust for these differences, the mariners attached a ‘reducer’ on each end of the fuel hose.

The first fuel ‘reducer’ failed but the CONMARS and CIVMARS who conducted the evolution were able to produce a replacement part, on scene, and changed out the damaged equipment.

“We had some ‘hick-ups’ during the evolution but nothing that the mariners couldn’t overcome,” said Wiggins. “The crew worked hard and it was a long day but overall we are considering this operation a success.”

Once the fuel line was replaced aboard Laramie, and the system was tested for compromise, Gianella pumped ten-thousand gallons of fuel to the fleet oiler.

This evolution marked the first time the U.S. Navy has transferred fuel between these two classes of ships using a standard commercial fuel hose, said Douglas.

“The commercial maritime industry has been conducting fuel lightering operations for several years,” said Capt. William Wiggins, USNS Laramie’s master. “Prior to today, MSC had never performed this type of operation with a fleet oiler.”

Once the fuel transfer was complete, the mariners aboard Gianella retrieved the 12 inch fueling line and secured it.

“We wanted to prove that our ships could perform this type of fuel transfer and begin to build our technical knowledge for application to potential future endeavors,” said Wiggins.

After the fuel transfer was complete, the mariners retrieved the mooring lines and the two ship moved apart and sailed away.

The fuel tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is crewed by approximately 30 civilian contract mariners and is used by the U.S. Navy to deliver petroleum products to Department of Defense storage and distribution facilities worldwide.

The fleet replenishment oiler Laramie is crewed by approximately 70 civil service mariners (CIVMARS) and provides underway replenishment at sea of fuel, fleet cargo and stores to U.S. Navy and allied ships.