February 11, 2009: The U.S. Navy has assigned one of its T-AKE supply ships to serve as a floating prison, helicopter base and, presumably, supply source for the anti-piracy Task Force 151 operating off northern Somalia. The USNS Lewis and Clark has had its crew reduced from 158 to 118, and accommodations for 26 prisoners were improvised. Any captured pirates will be turned over to Kenya, which has agreed to prosecute them.
Each T-AKE ship costs about half a billion dollars. The ships are built mostly to commercial standards, which keeps costs down, and speeds up construction. Currently, six are in service and eight are on order. The fourteen T-AKEs will replace 16 existing supply (separate ammo, cargo and fuel) ships that are reaching the end of their 35 year service life this year. The T-AKE is a 41,000 ton (displacement) ship that is 689 feet long and move along at 32 kilometers an hour. The basic crew consists of 99 civilians and eleven military personnel. There are berths for 209 people on the ship. The ship can carry 7,000 tons of cargo and 2,380 tons of fuel (nearly a million gallons). Two helicopters (CH-46 or MH-60) can be carried. The first ship of the class is the "Lewis and Clark."
The T-AKE is the grandchild of the Servron. Developed out of necessity during World War II, because of a lack of sufficient forward bases in the vast Pacific. There, the service squadrons (Servron) became a permanent fixture in the U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy ships still sometimes stay at sea for up to six months at a time, being resupplied at sea by a Servron. New technologies were developed to support the effective use of the seagoing supply service. Few other navies have been able to match this capability, mainly because of the expense of the Servron ships and the training required to do at sea replenishment. When a Servron is not available, ships must return to port for fuel and other supplies. Off Somalia, several nations have sent supply ships to keep their warships serviced while conducting anti-piracy patrols. In some cases, local shipping firms are contracted to bring supplies out to the warships. Passing the supplies while underway can be tricky, and those navies that practice this a lot (like the U.S. Navy) can do it most quickly and efficiently. The World War II Servrons also provided special services, similar to the T-AKE acting as a prison ship.