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USNS Altair hosts dignitaries, media in South Africa

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(USTCNS) --- To succeed in the global war against terrorism, U.S. forces must operate with the best equipment and supplies. So, the Department of Defense calls upon the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, or MSC, to deliver thousands of tons of cargo, each and every day, to our forces operating around the world.

As MSC’s ships transit the world’s oceans, however, moving cargo efficiently and in a timely manner often requires the
cooperation of host nations.

Ports in South Africa are a convenient stop along regularly traveled ocean routes, and, recently, Capt. David K. Wright, USN, Commander, MSC Europe, took the opportunity to thank those who have made MSC’s operations there a great success.

On a warm African summer night in February aboard MSC’s fast sealift ship USNS Altair at the port of Durban, U.S. Consul General at Durban Michael Thurston and the Mayor of Durban Obed Mlaba, joined about 25 other guests for a two hour evening reception to give everyone there a ‘pat on the back.’

South African ports of Durban, Richard’s Bay, and Cape Town have been and remain today, vital bunkering stops for scores of MSC ships to refuel, pick up supplies, and to rest crewmembers prior to transiting back to the U.S. or their next port of call.

Most important, for MSC ships returning from off-loading their equipment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, South Africa offers the perfect location to provide enough fuel and supplies so that MSC ships can transit to the U.S. without stopping again—returning quickly to the U.S. to reload and transit again to the Middle East—ensuring our forces receive the best equipment and supplies, on time, every time! While the Suez Canal is the most direct route between the Middle East and the east coast of the U.S., operational considerations often route ships around the Cape of Good Hope and South Africa is the midway point for that route.

“I think the key here is efficiency and timeliness. South African ports offer tremendous services for our ships and ensure our ships remain on schedule,” said Capt. Wright.

Other guests at the reception included the U.S. Naval Attaché and press officer from the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, the deputy consul general at Durban, representatives from local government, the South African navy, the Durban port authority, and regional husbanding agents.

MSC Europe’s Public Affairs Officer Ed Baxter kicked off presentations at the gala and introduced both Capt. Wright, and their host for the evening, Capt. Breslin. Also attending from MSC were MSC Europe’s representative in South Africa Cmdr. Dave Larson, USNR, Marge Holtz of MSC Public Affairs, and MSC Europe operations officer Scott Merry.

Capt. Breslin then welcomed the guests aboard and discussed the ship’s mission and capabilities.

Capt. Wright then presented MSC Europe command plaques to Michael Thurston, Mayor Mlaba, Lt.Cmdr. Leon Steyn, SAN, representing the commander of the South African naval base at Durban, and to Paul Voigt, Managing Director of ISS-Voigt Shipping, MSC’s chief husbanding agent in South Africa—all for their cooperation and support towards MSC operations in South Africa.

The following day, MSC co-hosted a media event with the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria where local and national print and broadcast media visited Altair. Altair’s Chief Mate Larry Ledwon and Second Mate Kerry Grubb led tours of the ship. Media later assembled on the bridge where they had an opportunity to ask questions and stayed for lunch aboard.

Altair is carrying hundreds of U.S. Army vehicles, moving equipment, and bridging equipment returning from service in Iraq. “I think this event will go a long way toward keeping our frequent stops for fuel and provisions in South Africa understood and in a positive light,” Capt. Wright said.

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