Navy ship underway for Gaza pier mission suffers fire, returns to US

by Vern Evans

One of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command ships slated to take part in building a humanitarian aid pier off the Gaza Strip suffered a mishap last week and had to return to Florida, even as the Pentagon’s target date for getting the pier operational nears.

The cargo ship 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo suffered a fire in its engine room Thursday while on its way to the Mediterranean Sea and returned under its own power on one engine to Jacksonville, Florida, on Tuesday, the Navy said in a statement.

“The crew evacuated the area and used portable extinguishers to put out the fire,” the Navy said. “All ship’s crew and military personnel are accounted for, and no injuries were reported.”

An investigation into the fire’s cause is ongoing, and a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operations said the Navy is in the midst of assessing whether Bobo can carry out the mission, or if another ship will be tapped for the task.

Bobo was one of three Navy vessels joining five Army ships in the Army-led mission to build a humanitarian pier using the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS, capability.

The defense official said Bobo was carrying gear that would not be needed for the pier to reach initial operational capability.

“It’s not going to impact any timeline of JLOTS standing up,” the official said.

Fellow Navy cargo ships Roy P. Benavidez and 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez have arrived in the Mediterranean, according to the official.

Roughly 260 sailors from Naval Beach Group 1 are taking part in the mission by setting up a 72-foot-wide by 270-foot-long floating dock three miles off Gaza, a Navy official said last month.

Sailors will also operate the causeway ferries connected to the pier, and will offload cargo into trucks that will deliver aid to Gaza, according to officials.

The Pentagon and President Joe Biden have said that no U.S. boots will be on the ground in Gaza as part of the mission.

Biden first unveiled plans to construct the offshore pier to allow delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip during the State of the Union address.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said early last month that the pier would be operational in about 60 days. Ryder told reporters Tuesday that “we’re still on track for that.”

“A lot of the components are already in the theater,” Ryder said, adding that the Army-led effort was on track “to have JLOTS achieve operating capability by the end of the month or early May.”

“What you will probably see in the next two to three weeks is components of JLOTS starting to be constructed,” Ryder said. “But again, planners are working through those details, and we’ll certainly provide you much more information as we get closer.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at [email protected].

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