Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The Navy's Military Sealift Command announced Friday that it has awarded a $3.1 million contract to Patriot Shipping for the heavy-lift transfer of the USS Fitzgerald back to the United States.
The Fitzgerald will be moved from the naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, to the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., where it will be repaired and refurbished. The transfer is slated to be completed by November.
The USS Fitzgerald was involved in a collision with a Philippine-flagged commercial cargo ship on June 17 that killed seven U.S. sailors and inflicted severe damage to the starboard side of the ship.
Retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the U.S Naval Institute told UPI that lifting and transporting a 7,000 ton destroyer is an extensive effort which the Navy relies on private contractors to perform.
"Bringing a damaged ship back is a very complex task because you've got to make sure the ship is ready to go, and then you have to decide which method, which mode you're going to use for it," Daly said.
"So in this case, the Navy has decided to issue a proposal through the Military Sealift Command to ask and solicit for contractors to lift the ship and bring it back. It's a very involved process because you first have to patch the ship, make sure it's structurally sound. You have to get the lifting ship there."
Lifting a ship involves vessels using inflatable lifts to raise the destroyer and depositing it on a carrier ship, much like a maritime flatbed truck.
"What they basically do is these ships are built to sink down, to balance down in the water and then they take small tugboats and they place the damaged ship over the top, and then they debalance and literally come up and lift it out of the water."
The Fitzgerald was the first of two U.S. Navy destroyers to be involved in a collision with severe loss of life in the past five weeks. The USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker on Aug. 21 which left 10 sailors dead.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet has suffered four collision and grounding incidents since the beginning of the year, sparking serious concerns over basic crew readiness, proficiency, and whether the Navy in it's current size and funding faces too many commitments.