May 23, 2019 – Military Sealift Command’s last champion class T-5 petroleum tanker, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella (T-AOT 1125), completed its final underway mission for the U.S. Navy by sailing down the Elisabeth River to downtown Norfolk, Virginia in support of National Maritime Day, May 23.
Christened April 19, 1986, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella’s primary role has been to perform point-to-point delivery of petroleum products to Department of Defense storage and distribution facilities worldwide.
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is the last and longest serving U.S. government owned champion class T-5 Tanker,” said Matthew Sweeney, Military Sealift Command 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. Robert J. 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 MV Gus. W. Darnell (ATO-1121), USNS Paul Buck (T-AOT 1122), USNS Richard G. Matthiesen (T-AOT 1124) and the USNS Samuel L. Cobb (T-AOT 1123).
“Military Sealift Command operated its T-5 tankers in each of its five area commands, MSC Atlantic, MSC Pacific, MCS Central, MSC Far East and MSC Europe and Africa,” added Mills.
USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is the last non-combat logistics force petroleum tanker in MSC service capable of providing underway replenishment-at-sea services with combatants using the modular fuel distribution system (MFDS), according to Sweeney.
“Fuel is the lifeblood of the U.S. Navy’s combatant fleet,” said Mills. “USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is able to re-stock MSC’s fleet oilers and Navy combatant ships while at sea using its two re-fueling stations. We would pull into port and bring fuel to our fleet oilers so that they could remain at sea.”
Over the course of USNS Lawrence H. Gianella service, the ship has provided direct support to the warfighters in multiple wars.
“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,” according to Sweeney. “The ship also provided CONSOL and petroleum logistics support for Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.”
As an ice class oil tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella has performed numerous Arctic and Antarctic resupply missions since the mid-1980s.
“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.”
USNS Lawrence H. Gianella also performed duties as part of MSC’s pre-positioning fleet. Prepositioning is an essential element U.S. Military’s strategy which involves placing military equipment and supplies aboard ships located in key ocean areas to ensure rapid availability during a major theater war, humanitarian operation or other contingency.
“From 2009-2012, we were part of the prepositioning fleet out of Diego Garcia,” said Mills. “While in this role, the ship was on standby to respond to a crisis in a variety of areas including the Persian Gulf, Africa, or locations in the Far East.”
“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.
USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is owned by MSC and crewed by civilian mariners from Ocean Ships Inc., whose duties include running the deck department, engine department and steward’s department.
“We have typically been crewed by 23 civilian mariners and occasionally travel with two maritime academy cadets,” Mills said. “In addition to myself, we have a chief mate, two third mates, one bosun, five able bodied seamen, and two deck engine utilities.
“On the engine side of the crew, we have one chief engineer, one first engineer, and a second engineer,” he added. “The engine team also includes one pump-men and two qualified members of the engine department.
“Our galley is crewed by one steward, one cook and two galley steward utilities personnel,” according to Mills.
The ship’s namesake, Lawrence Henry Gianella, recipient of the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal, was born on February 15, 1921 in California. On December 19, 1941, Gianella was serving as the radio operator on board unarmed U.S. freighter S.S. Prusa when Japanese submarine I-172 torpedoed and sank the ship in the mid-Pacific Ocean, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website.
The explosion blew through Prusa’s after decks, wrecking the engines and dynamos, and it became immediately apparent that the ship would remain afloat for only a few minutes.
The ship’s master ordered the crew to prepare to abandon ship, and an officer directed Gianella to send an S.O.S., but found the radio operator already engaged in rigging an emergency set.
The crewmen meanwhile lowered lifeboats, and the master sent orders to Gianella to join them. He had not been able to get his message through, however, and realizing that upon him rested all hope for the rescue of his shipmates, Gianella refused to leave his post and chose to face certain death in his stark devotion to duty.
“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.”
The five sister ships of the USNS Lawrence H. Gianella were also named after Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal honorees.
Upon deactivation, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella will be placed in lay-up in coastal Texas.