The future USS Billings, a new Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship that the U.S. Navy recently took delivery of, sustained damage after hitting another vessel in Montreal, Canada yesterday. The warship had been on its way to future homeport in Mayport, Florida ahead of its formal commissioning and the hope is that this incident will not delay its entry into service.
The incident reportedly occurred on June 24, 2019, after two tugs assisting the future Billings in Montreal harbor cast off their two lines. For still unknown reasons, the LCS lost control and smacked up against the side of the Rosaire Desgagnes, a bulk cargo ship, which was moored nearby, according to First Coast News. A spokesperson for Naval Surface Force Atlantic told The Maritime Executive that the Navy ship’s starboard bridge wing had been damaged, as a result, but also that a full damage assessment is underway.
“The Navy is conducting an investigation to understand what happened and why,” U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Courtney Hillson, a public affairs officer at Naval Surface Force Atlantic informed WOKV News in Jacksonville. “We will incorporate lessons learned to ensure we conduct safe and effective operations.”
A video of the future Billings up against the side of the Rosaire Desgagnes subsequently appeared on the Shipspotting Canada Facebook group. You can also view the video here if it does not appear below.
There were no reported injuries to personnel on either ship. There is no word yet about potential damage to the Rosaire Desgagnes.
We don’t know yet when the future Billings might restart her voyage to Florida. Her commissioning date, August 3, 2019, remains unchanged.
Construction of the future Billings began in 2014 and she was launched in 2017. The Navy officially took delivery of the ship in a ceremony at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin in February 2019. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the Freedom-class LCS, but Fincantieri Marinette Marine, an American subsidiary of Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri Marine, is the subcontractor responsible for actually building them.
The future USS Billings during acceptance trials on Lake Michigan in December 2018.
The ship left the shipyard for Mayport earlier in June. After delivery, new Freedom-class LCSs must sail through the Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway in order to get out into the Atlantic Ocean and then make their way to their future homeports.
It is perhaps good that this incident occurred now, during the summer, rather than during the winter months, when ice can block the St. Lawrence. After her delivery in September 2017, the Freedom-class USS Little Rock sailed to Buffalo New York for her commissioning in December 2017. She then found herself waylaid in Montreal due to ice, remaining stuck there until March 2018.
USS Little Rock docked in Montreal in December 2017.
The predicament of the future Billings also brings up memories of the USS Montgomery, an Independence-class LCS, which suffered two similar accidents, on top of a pair of engineering casualties, shortly after her commissioning in September 2016. On Oct. 4, 2016, a tug collided with Montgomery, leaving a foot-long crack in her hull, as she was leaving Mobile, Alabama to escape Hurricane Matthew. After temporary repairs, she continued on her way. Then, on Oct. 29, 2016, she hit the wall of one of the locks in the Panama canal, causing another crack in her side, this time 18 inches long.
Montgomery eventually reached her homeport of San Diego, California and received more permanent repairs. The Navy does not appear to have ever released an estimate or final total of cost of fixing that ship.
The Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery.
From what we know so far, the future Billings‘ accident isn’t related to the ship’s design in any way, but this latest incident certainly can’t help the image of the LCS program. The Navy has had difficulty employing the perpetually underwhelming ships at all, let alone as intended, and no LCS of any type deployed in 2018 due to a confluence of factors. This came after a major restructuring of the entire LCS program that resulted in, among other things, the relegation of the first four ships to test and training duties.
Concerns about the limited capabilities of the ships finally drove the Navy to begin a program to acquire a new class of frigates in 2017. The service hopes to pick a winning design this year, though there are now fears that Congressional requirements could upend the effort.
In the meantime, hopefully, the full extent of the damage to the future Billings will remain limited and it will be able to make it to Mayport on time for commissioning.
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