The U.S. Navy is sending as many as six ships and an aircraft carrier towards the Caribbean to support relief operations in response to Hurricane Irma.
Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, on Friday ordered the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), and the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) to get underway September 8 so they are in position to provide humanitarian relief in support of federal, state and local authorities if requested.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Farragut (DDG 99), which the Navy said is underway conducting local operations, has also been ordered to join the group.
The order comes ahead of the imminent landfall of Hurricane Irma in South Florida over the weekend.
Iwo Jima and New York departed Mayport, Florida, Sept. 5 and conducted an onload in Norfolk, Virginia, of more than 300 Marines and Sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and II Marine Expeditionary Force.
On Thursday, the Navy also ordered the amphibious assault ships USS Wasp (LHD 1), USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), along with the Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, to get underway to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma ravaged parts of the Caribbean in recent days. The ships will provide support to FEMA as the lead federal agency in providing humanitarian relief efforts.
The Navy said together the ships are capable of providing medical support, maritime civil affairs, maritime security, expeditionary logistic support, medium and heavy lift air support.
You may recall that the Kearsarge and Oak Hill departed from Norfolk, Virginia for the Gulf of Mexico on August 31 to support relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey. But according to the new order the ships have now been redirected to be in a position to support efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Wasp arrived in the vicinity of the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday and is currently providing medium and heavy lift helicopters to transport people and supplies. Wasp’s helicopters are conducting medical evacuations for intensive care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix and conducting site assessments on the initial damage in St. Thomas.
Wasp departed for Sasebo, Japan, Aug. 30, to assume duties as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious force of the U.S. 7th Fleet, but was redirected to assist with relief efforts.
The Navy said the combined aircraft on all three ships (Wasp, Kearsarge, and Oak Hill) include three UH-1Y Marine Utility Helicopters, three CH-53E Marine Heavy Lift Helicopters, five MV-22 Marine Tiltrotor aircraft and nine MH-60S Navy Medium Lift Helicopters.
“The top priority of the federal government, as we work together to support civil authorities, is to minimize suffering and protecting the lives and safety of those affected by Hurricane Irma,” the Navy said in its statement.
On Friday, Hurricane Irma was located about 405 miles (655 km) southeast of Miami as it moved towards South Florida at about 14 mph. The storm is still Category 4 strength, with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph and higher gusts.
As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Navy ships homeported at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville have also been moved or departed for sea in anticipation of Hurricane Irma over the weekend.
The Navy said USS Shamal (PC 13), USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), and USCG Tahoma (WPG 80) got underway from Mayport on Wednesday. USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), USS Farragut (DDG 99) and USS Lassen (DDG 82) were scheduled to depart Mayport on Sept. 7. USS Hue City (CG 66), USS Tornado (PC 14) and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) will be moved to a safe haven location and made ready for the heavy weather. USS Detroit (LCS 7) and USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) will both remain in port in Mayport and will be heavy weather moored.
You can get our full Hurricane Irma coverage HERE.