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First-in-class oiler ship, to be named after Rep. John Lewis, christened by Navy

The U.S. Navy christened the first in a new class of oil replenishment tankers, to be named after civil rights leader and member of Congress John Lewis, on Saturday. Photo courtesy of NASSCO
The U.S. Navy christened the first in a new class of oil replenishment tankers, to be named after civil rights leader and member of Congress John Lewis, on Saturday. Photo courtesy of NASSCO

July 19 (UPI) -- The first in a new class of U.S. Navy oiler ships, to be named after civil rights leader John Lewis, was christened at San Diego's NASSCO shipyards.

Actor and activist Alfre Woodward Spencer swung a ceremonial champagne bottle against the hull of the ship on Saturday, as Lewis' family and at least 30 former or current members of Congress watched.

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Lewis, a 33-year member of Congress from Georgia, died in 2020. The christening of the ship was conducted on the first anniversary of his death.

"This ship will be a beacon to the world, reminding all who see it of the persistence and courage of John Lewis," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in remarks at the event.

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Under a $3 billion contract, the shipyard will build the first six Lewis-class oilers, the first of what the Navy envisions will be a fleet of 20 vessels.

The ships are regarded as replenishment oilers, naval auxiliary ships with fuel tanks and dry cargo holds which supply fuel and other material to ships at sea.

The oilers feature the capacity to carry 162,000 barrels of oil, a dry cargo capacity and the ability to land helicopters. They are designed with double hulls to protect against oil spills.

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The Navy determined in 2016 that each ship in the class will be named to honor a non-military American who was prominent in civil rights movements.

The USNS John Lewis was named at that time by Ray Mabus, Navy Secretary during the administration of former president Barack Obama.

Future ships in the class will be named after Harvey Milk, Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez and Sojourner Truth, among others.

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