Navy officials have ordered a second set of amphibious ships to be ready should they be needed to support rescue and relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which is currently heading through the Caribbean Sea and toward Florida coast.
The amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and landing platform dock New York, both based in Mayport, Florida, departed on Aug. 5th and are slated to arrive in Norfolk to onload relief supplies as well as an additional 300 plus Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, a Navy official familiar with the planning told Navy Times Sept. 6.
In addition, the Navy has begun to move most of its remaining ships at Naval Station Mayport out to sea or other locations to wait out the storm.
The decision to move the ships is based on concerns for the safety of sailors and preservation of the ships and associated equipment,” said Bill Austin, spokesman for Naval Station, Mayport.
“Navy vessels can remain safe at sea by maneuvering to avoid storms altogether — additionally, having ships underway ensures they are ready to respond to any national tasking if required.”
Already underway on Wednesday were the coastal patrol boat Shamal; guided-missile destroyers Sullivans and Bulkeley as well as the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma.
The guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyers Farragut and Lassen are scheduled to head to sea Thursday.
Meanwhile, the guided-missile cruiser Hue City, the coastal patrol Tornado and guided-missile destroyer Roosevelt, “will be moved to a safe haven location and made ready for heavy weather,” Navy officials announced, though it wasn’t clear where that safe haven would be.
Navy officials told Navy Times the ships will be moved elsewhere in the Jacksonville or Mayport area by tug boats and will be tied up to weather the storm at safe locations.
The littoral combat ships Detroit and Milwaukee are both slated to remain in port and will be “heavy-weather moored,” the release said.
The ship movements come after Tuesday’s announcement of the mandatory evacuation of nearly 5,000 sailors and family members from Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida. That order was given by on Sept. 5 by Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Navy Region Southeast commander.
Remaining behind to weather out the storm will be 50-60 mission essential personnel to maintain essential functions on the installation, according to a press release issued Sept. 6 from Navy Region Southeast.
Also evacuated were 166 non-essential personnel, family members along with 97 pets from the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, off the Florida coast.
“Additionally,” Bolivar said, “I’ve directed that when mandatory orders are issued by competent civilian authorities in Florida counties that could be impacted by Hurricane Irma, non-essential active duty military, civilian employees, drilling reservists, and authorized dependents residing in those counties are authorized to evacuate.”
Personnel and family members who evacuate must be placed on evacuation orders issued by their parent command. Personnel and families will be reimbursed for lodging and per diem at the approved rate for their designated safe haven, the release said.
On Tuesday, the Navy ordered the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, the dock landing ship Oak Hill and about 700 embarked Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to standby for possible tasking once the storm passes.
Staff writer Jeff Shogol contributed to this report
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.