Archive for the 'Disaster Relief' Tag

A few days ago I received an email from James Knochel at I had never heard of the group before. Their goal is to save the USS Enterprise from the scrapyard by converting it into a dedicated disaster response ship:

The Navy is planning to send the Enterprise on two 6-month cruises before throwing it away. They’ll have to cut it up to extract the nuclear reactors, so there’s no prospect for turning it into a museum. The Enterprise’s replacement, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is specifically designed to reduce operating costs. The Enterprise is just too expensive for the Navy to keep as an active warship.

Instead of throwing away a perfectly functional ship, we propose that the Enterprise be dedicated to disaster response.

This is a horrible idea. Enterprise is too big, too deep, too costly, and too old to be a viable dedicated humanitarian and disaster relief ship. The fundamental problem with Knochel’s idea is that it seems primarily interesting in finding a mission for the ship, rather than finding the right ship for the mission. In other words, it is about saving Enterprise, not saving people. If you are really interested in providing effective humanitarian relief, loading disaster response modules onto many ships would be a better choice.

However, given that it is clearly an original idea, I thought I would throw it out there to readers and see what your thoughts are.

Update: Here is a response from Knochel

“The genesis for my “Send the Enterprise” idea was in thinking about
ways to mitigate the environmental impact of BP’s Deepwater Horizon

Oil seeps into the world’s oceans every day. Bacteria in the ocean
waters use oxygen to eat this oil. But due to the massive amounts of
oil and natural gas that were being released from the blowout, all
available oxygen in the waters around the Macondo Prospect site was
quickly consumed.

My idea called for using “bubble fences” to get extra oxygen into the
water, thereby feeding the oil-consuming bacteria. This would require
a lot of energy, and I thought the U.S. Navy’s “portable” nuclear
reactors would be the ideal way to power this sort of infrastructure.

One of my early readers suggested that it’d be easier to pump warm,
oxygenated water to the depths required than air, which I eventually
realized was a good insight.

It’s not enough to have a good idea, they have to be properly marketed
too. In hindsight, Kevin Costner’s centrifuge was rather mediocre at
actually collecting oil, but his celebrity status got him attention
and million-dollar contracts.

I have neither celebrity nor attention, and good ideas don’t sell
themselves. To help with marketing, I titled my piece to piggyback on
to the mystique and legend of the Navy’s oldest nuclear powered ship:
Save the Gulf, Send the Enterprise

In the process of researching that article, I learned about many of
the disasters that the Navy has responded to in recent years. After
BP’s well was finally plugged, my thoughts shifted towards future
disasters: the possibility of another offshore blowout, and the
certainty of future volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis
anywhere in the world.

“When Disaster Strikes, Send the Enterprise” gets a lot more attention
than “wouldn’t it be cool if the U.S. Navy had some ships that were
dedicated to disaster response?”

Perhaps you all are correct that amphibious ships are more appropriate
for HA/DR than retired aircraft carriers. Whatever the case, I’m
hoping that the Congress will appropriate some money to fully study
the prospect of dedicating ships to these purposes.

If this idea takes off, and you see the media talking about “sending
the Enterprise”, please remember it’s more a marketing strategy than
an effort to “save” a specific ship.

Thanks for all the feedback & ideas.


James Knochel”

In late October and early November, Thailand’s southern provinces were hit by major flooding. The flooding, triggered by a tropical depression, affected around 100,000 people by one account, with waters up to three meter high.

In response, the Thai government sent the Royal Thai Navy vessel that is an oddball of world navies. While most coastal nations maintain naval forces, only handful operate aircraft carriers (Brazil, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Thailand, UK, US). The vessel, HTMS Chakri Naruebet, is the flagship of the Royal Thai Navy and is the smallest aircraft carrier in operation. Since being built by Spain in the mid-90s, the carrier has been most famous for rarely leaving port (one source claims the ship only has funding to lease port one day a month). However, it does deploy sometimes. Since coming into service the ship has taken part in four disaster relief missions. This makes disaster relief a (if not the most) common mission for the ship.

However, you’d be wrong to compare the HTMS Chakri Naruebet’s disaster relief mission with those of the United States Navy. Based on an article in the Pattaya Daily News, the aircraft carrier contribution to the relief effort was limited to single truck load of supplies (mostly bottled water, according to the photos in the article) and a few helicopter flights over the disaster area. Far from being the nations knight in grey armor, the carrier’s mission seems to be mostly disaster relief theater on the part of the Thai leadership. This is not the first time Thai military has been used to provide token disaster relief, in mid-october Thai Royal Highness Princess Soamsavali ordered two Amphibious Assault Vehicles to assist flood victims in Thai’s northeast region. Two! You’d probably be better off hiring some local fishing boats.

Over the last few weeks, USNS Comfort has been part of the Haiti zeitgeist, both in America and overseas. The ship appears in hundreds of stories, articles, videos, and blog posts. Her white hull has become a symbol of United States humanitarianism in Haiti. However, the converted oil tanker’s original primary purpose was to support combat operations, not conduct the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions that gained her renown. So I ask the readers, if you were to design the next generation of hospital ship, the next USNS Comfort, what would the vessel look like? Here are some of my own thoughts.

Small, Fast, And Shallow

As previously mentioned on the USNI blog, USNS Comfort arrived off the coast of Haiti slightly over 88 hours after the earthquake. In that time, the converted oil tanker, manned by only a skeleton crew, was stocked with supplies, staffed with medical personnel from multiple services and NGOs, and sailed down the Atlantic coast. In getting the massive ship from a pier in New England Baltimore to a disaster zone in the Caribbean, the crew proved themselves to be true professionals. Impressive is not strong enough a word to describe their accomplishment, it was Herculean. And, that is the problem.

To maximize effectiveness, rapid arrival on station after a disaster should occur because of the ship’s design, not in spite of it. Hospital ships must be small, fast, and shallow. They must operate in areas with small, damaged, or no ports. They must navigate waterways littered with debris without assistance and anchor in the shallow waters close to shore. Most importantly, hospital ships must be fast. Arriving in the first 24 hours is orders of magnitude more helpful than arriving in the first 48 hours, or 88.

Dedicated Medical Team

Instead of staffing hospital ships with an ad hoc complement of riders, hospital ships deserve dedicated medical contingents. Dedicated medical team would reduce deployment time and improve mission effectiveness. I am not discounting the importance of NGOs such as Project Hope, but rather suggesting that NGO health professionals should supplement a core medical team that has trained and worked with each other and with the ship. Many will say the armed forces do not have enough medical personnel. They are right, but that does mean we should not do it. Rather, it only means we must train more personnel.

Update: Leesea has some great thoughts in the comment section below. Check them out.