The USS Bataan (LHD-5) was one of the first ships directed towards Haiti after the massive January 12 earthquake, but, once the ship arrived to serve in Operation Unified Response, the Bataan ran into a hail of criticism over it’s slow start in accepting and treating wounded Haitians. One of my USNI pals was particularly tough on the flat-deck. Why was the Bataan so slow off the mark?

Well, the MSC has a likely answer. There might have been a darn good reason why the Bataan’s medical facilities were slow to get into the game….Why? The answer is simple–Water. The Bataan didn’t have any. Though the Bataan’s embarked media didn’t make much of a peep about the shortage, off Haiti, the ship’s evaporators–rather important pieces of equipment for a steam-powered vessel–failed.

And with no water, there’s precious little a medical team can offer.

According to Cmdr Mark Pimpo, USNS Sacagawea’s (T-AKE-2) military department officer in charge, the Bataan was in serious trouble:

“We also transferred more than 40,000 gallons of water to amphibious assault ship USS Bataan when both of the ship’s evaporators stopped functioning. Bataan was eventually able to get a tech rep onboard, but the water we provided made the difference,” Pimpo said.”

For the Bataan, a ship that entered the fleet in 1997, this sort of breakdown is not a good sign. But on the other hand, an evaporator failure is the sort of thing that’ll likely happen after a ship has been at sea for seven months, gets shut down…and then gets tasked to handle an unexpected contingency.

With short-notice surge deployments becoming the norm, the Navy has got to start doing some serious thinking about how it manages ship maintenance and surge availability. Are looming failures (or chronic engineering problems) getting reported up the chain-of-command during deployment? Or are they kinda close-held until after deployment when it all becomes some shipyard’s problem to deal with?

But just note…for the helpful T-AKE, this story is just another testament to how important the MSC’s T-AKE fleet has become (in such a short time, too)! These cheap, do-anything ships–with their residual fuel and liquid supply capabilities–are really pulling the Navy out of some potentially sticky situations…


Posted by Defense Springboard in Navy, Soft Power
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  • eastriver

    Great catch on a probable cause, good caution for the future, and a fine opp for Sacagawea to t-ake some credit! (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  • CDR G (ret)

    You note that: “an evaporator failure is the sort of thing that’ll likely happen after a ship has been at sea for seven months, gets shut down…and then gets tasked to handle an unexpected contingency.

    With short-notice surge deployments becoming the norm, the Navy has got to start doing some serious thinking about how it manages ship maintenance and surge availability.”

    I agree but want to expand a bit on the “ship maintenance” to include the people piece. I would bet part of my next paycheck that included in that return to port was a number of transfers of some very well-trained snipes whose job it was to run those evaps. I suspect had they been on the deckplates, things would have come online pretty fast.

    I base this on the fact that the solution seems to have been a tech rep. I’ve had those guys save me, too, but usually for something pretty esoteric, not for evap ops that are usually solved when the part arrives. But two plants down?

    I’ll admit I’m not up on all the gritty details, but I have to ask, ‘what was the CHENG/AUXO thinking when he let all his good water tenders leave at once?’ (Also, not to slam our aviators buds, but was the CO/XO in the aviator half of the cycle or was this a SWO running in charge?)

    Okay, somebody pile on and tell me where I missed the boat.

  • Byron

    Evaps are serious maintainence nightmares. I’ll bet the yard period had a work item for overhauling them. Sail to Haiti they did, knowing that they would get fixed, even if there was water hours the whole way down.

  • Defense Springboard

    CDR G–Great comments. I was wondering about the two evaps myself.

    Byron–the problem is that they (whomever knew about the evaps) didn’t tell anybody so they could adjust their planning. No matter how much gumption the crew had, planners would not have kitted up a water-infirm platform as a pediatric intensive care ward. Or advertised Bataan as a medical receiving facility.

    In fact, if I were one of the media folks running the PR game, I might have played it up…A “Han Solo” moment, so to speak…What’s more dashing than a cold ship racing out of the shipyard, with systems barely functioning…to save the day?

  • Byron

    DS, you’re assuming that “They” didn’t tell “Them” about the evaps. I bet they did. Evaps on a ship that does not have reverse osmosis units are very, very important. Evaps are critically important on an oil-fired ship. There had to be a work order in.

    My guess is that not much had been torn apart (for the post-deployment repair cycle) on the Bataan so she could deploy. I’m also guessing that some people went with her to get the evaps working while she made her way down to Haiti.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    If she had a Casualty Report on the street, well and good. Things don’t always get fixed as fast or easily as one might hope.

    If she didn’t send a Casrep when #1 went off the line and another when number 2 went, no excuse acceptable. Straight up non performance of duty, the report exists so ships selected to be tasked on short notice will be capable of doing the job.

    If she was the only one remotely possible, well, send her and try to get the evaps on line enroute. That’s what expeditors and tiger teams are for.

    If the ISIC or higher “advised” the ship to defer reporting, to keep a “not capable” off of high level HQs’ status boards and daily briefs and avoid an unwelcome spotlight. somebody should be explaining why he/she should not be imitating Admiral Byng. A “surprise” that a major ship which can’t make fresh water should never, ever, happen.


  • Jim Dolbow

    Great post Springboard! Glad the truth is finally out there. I actually was being kind when I was “particularly tough” on them.

  • Defense Springboard

    With apologies to an old TV show from my youth, “Don’t make Jim angry…you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…”

    It seriously sounds like a communication hiccup happened someplace…

  • YNSN

    Head over to facebook, take a look at the CNO’s page. There’s some pretty peeved better halfs about the fact that BATAAN is still on station. Poor ship needs a break…. Not that a yards period is a break by any means.

  • Defense Springboard

    Wow. That’s just…wow. And the Bataan’s Facebook site too…tough reading.

    Nice catch YNSN!

  • Doc V

    yea i was on the Bataan as part of the IA medical team, had a blast helping people and getting an experience of a life time. During the water shortage it kinda sucked, had to ration, and couldnt shower or wash clothes. It was getting pretty bad, but the marines didnt seem to mind. ERRRRRR-RAAAAAA