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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A 23,000 tonne US battleship with more than 1,900 crew on board arrived in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
The USS New York, measuring 684 feet long, is currently on a routine training mission in the region.
In an exclusive visit on Thursday, the ship’s captain, James P Kennedy, welcomed US Ambassador to the UAE, John Rakolta on board.
Built in Mississippi and first launched in 2009, what is unique about the imposing warship is its backstory.
We say it is a sailing memorial to all the people that died during the 9/11 attacks
Capt James P Kennedy
Described as a "mini floating city" by its crew, the Dh3.6 billion ($1 billion) vessel was one of six to be named after the State of New York in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Cutting through the water with a bow made from 6.8 tonnes of steel, the materials used to build it were salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre towers.
“The bow is very symbolic,” Capt Kennedy told The National. “Everywhere we go the first thing that touches a new place is the World Trade Centre steel.
“Some people in the shipyard in Mississippi delayed their retirement by several years just to help build this ship, so that’s pretty special.
“We say it is a sailing memorial to all the people that died during the 9/11 attacks.”
A steel plate recovered from the rubble in 2001 is also displayed in the Captain’s office - one of the most used passageways on the ship.
“It’s actually from a fire truck that was crushed by one of the towers,” a master chief said.
“A 1cm square piece of aluminium from United Airlines flight 175 had melted into it. It is small, but so significant.”
In the ship’s steering station, a jacket bearing the crest of the New York Fire Department has also been permanently placed in front of one of the command stations.
It was donated to the crew by first responder Lieutenant Bill Butler in 2015 and is often referred to as the vessel’s “guardian angel”.
“Bill was one of 11 firefighters and five civilians that were trapped inside the south tower when it collapsed on September 11,” Capt Kennedy said.
“They were trapped for about five hours but they all escaped unscathed. Bill was wearing that very uniform when the building fell around him.”
With remembrance photographs and wall hangings dotted throughout the passageways, Capt. Kennedy said it should act as a reminder to “never forget”.
On Wednesday, the ship's crew stood at 1,935 including 33 officers, 411 sailors and 691 marines.
Of the total number of sailors and marines on board, women represented 20 per cent and three per cent, respectively. The average age of a crew member was 22.
Designed as an amphibious transport dock to carry troops and artillery, the USS New York is not classed as a destroyer vessel but it does have extensive armament on board.
Equipped with two missile launchers, two 30mm machine guns and two .50 calibre machine guns, the commanding grey warship has the capacity to carry up to six helicopters or harriers at any one time.
One of three US ships that “roam the waters together”, the USS New York has completed three deployments and undertaken a number of missions, from combat fire to humanitarian operations.
“Deployments and missions vary. When we are not responding to conflict zones we are supporting efforts to help people and places impacted by natural disasters,” Capt. Kennedy said.
“We have a craft and crew that has the capabilities to get supplies in and out of places quickly to help people in need.”
Recently, it helped deliver aid to the Philippines after tsunamis ravaged a number of coastal towns and cities.
With some missions out at sea for weeks and months at a time, it is vital that crew keep both their body and mind active.
Measuring 23 feet deep and the length of about six football pitches, the battleship is decked out with its own chapel, library, internet café, post office, canteen, supermarket, mini hospital and five main gyms.
Keeping more than 1,900 crew fuelled for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a logistics game. With a 21-day rotating menu, taco Tuesday, hamburger Wednesday and pizza and wings Saturday all help to keep morale high on board.
During active missions, stocks are replenished every seven to 10 days at sea.
During any one exchange, a second smaller vessel travels alongside the USS New York, about 180 feet apart, and transfers about 90,000kg of fuel, food and other essentials via pallets and ziplines.
In January alone, one officer said the ship sold $1 million worth of food to its crew. And on its last full deployment, $198,000 worth of energy drinks were purchased on board.
Docked at Mina Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi, the departure date of the USS New York is unknown. However, Ambassador Rakolta said the visit was an important step to normalise the presence of US troops in the UAE.
“This demonstrates the depth and breadth of relationship of the US and UAE in trying to deter regional aggression,” he said.
“Being able to come aboard these ships and see these exercises shows the interoperability between the US armed forces and those of the UAE.
“We are working together for the best interests of our countries and the region.”
He said cultural exchange is a key part of that knowledge exchange too.
“When a sailor or marine is on a ship, they are just that; a sailor or a marine.
“But when they go on shore they become diplomats of our country. They represent the spirit of the US and go out and try to share those values with the country’s citizenry.
“During visits to the UAE we not only impact our relationships with Emiratis, there are eight million other residents from varying nationalities that can take that message back to their home countries.”
Updated: February 21, 2020 09:57 AM
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