Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, June 15, 2016 —
Despite its 63 years of service it can still drag a 400-foot ship for up to 1,500 nautical miles at a swift jogging pace on a single tank of gas. Not bad for a large tugboat that has served both the U.S. Navy and the Army admirably during more than half a century of military service.
The burden of maintenance eventually grew too high, however, leading the Army to make some tough choices about Large Tug 1974, most recently operating out of Kuwait Naval Base in the Arabian Gulf. According to DLA Disposition Services’ Central Region Deputy Director Vickie Rodgers, the tug’s age made it difficult for personnel to keep the boat within required military standards for watercraft readiness. The Army decided it would be easier for a private company to operate it and find replacement part options on the open market while having to adhere to less rigorous safety and materiel standards.
The Army turned to the Defense Logistics Agency to handle disposal in early 2015. Rodgers said a representative for the U.S. State Surplus Agencies initially expressed interest in acquiring the tugboat on behalf of one of the states, but ultimately declined after researching the cost of bringing it back to the United States. Once a decision was made to conduct a one-time sale of usable property in Kuwait – where the agency has blanket authorization for scrap sales only – DLA relied on the Defense Department’s Host Nation Coordination Cell to help petition the Kuwaiti government for an auction.
Over the course of the next year, the DLA team’s time, effort and tenacity paid off in an early 2016 tugboat sale that netted $103,000 and saw LT-1974 finally leave Kuwait Naval Base in June.
“This was huge … and it took everyone pulling together and doing some out-of-the-ordinary things in order to happen,” said Rodgers.
In May, Navy Lt. Marquita Pfannenstiel, the Expeditionary Disposal Remediation Team’s officer-in-charge in Kuwait, joined the effort to expedite the tugboat’s removal.
According to Pfannenstiel, the tug was drained and purged like any normal equipment turn-in, meaning it could not leave Kuwait Naval Base under its own power. Getting it out would require another tugboat. The Kuwaiti government and the U.S. Army were unable to assume the liabilities involved with removal assistance. The buyer – Al Mesalek General Trading Company – balked at the rate charged by the lone local contractor that maintained Kuwaiti approval for base operations.
“It became a standstill,” Pfannenstiel wrote. She began to “call everyone imaginable until I finally got in touch with the right people to make a formal request, which ended up being the Office of Military Cooperation, Naval Forces Commander on KNB. … I worked the request through the OMC and together we convinced the commander to allow Al Mesalek to use a different tug company to retrieve the boat.”
The removal, scheduled for June 1, was moved back a day due to a mechanical issue with the contract tugboat. Then came word of another tugboat delay.
“So we waited. And waited. And waited,” Pfannenstiel wrote. “We finally looked out to the guard tower at the end of the pier and decided to go poke around. When we got down there, a very nice Kuwaiti who spoke almost no English greeted us.”
Through rough translation and hand signals, Pfannenstiel said it was explained the wait was for a tugboat to come into the base to remove the drained tugboat. She said the Kuwaitis were very nice and helpful and provided tea, coffee and binoculars during the watch for tugboat. While the desired tugboat was at the entrance, there was an issue with the clearance.
“After several hours of coordinating with the company rep, the base police, the host nation, the harbor master and the Kuwaiti guards, I finally got them on the base,” Pfannenstiel said. “When they finally got on base, the removal took all of about 15 minutes, and they literally sailed off into the sunset.”
The company sent a note thanking the team for its work.
“Today, we removed [the] tugboat … from KNB. All of you helped us to do this. We are thankful and appreciating you all for all the efforts done,” said Al Mesalek representative Boby K. Baby.