Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 April 2020

USS New York: warship forged from 9/11 wreckage docks in Abu Dhabi

The vessel is a 'sailing memorial' to those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Centre

A 23,000-tonne US battleship with more than 1,900 crew on board arrived in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

The USS New York, which is about 208-metres long, is on a routine training mission in the region.

On Thursday, Capt James Kennedy welcomed the US ambassador to the UAE, John Rakolta, on board.

The vessel was built in Mississippi and first launched in 2009, but what is unique about the warship is its backstory.

We say it is a sailing memorial to all the people that died during the 9/11 attacks

Capt James P Kennedy

Described as a "mini floating city" by its crew, the $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) was one of six US Navy vessels named after the state of New York.

Cutting through the water with a bow made from 6.8 tonnes of steel, the material used to build it were salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre towers.

“The bow is very symbolic,” Capt Kennedy told The National. “Everywhere we go, the first thing that touches a new place is the World Trade Centre steel.

“Some people in the shipyard in Mississippi delayed their retirement by several years just to help build this ship, so that’s pretty special.

“We say it is a sailing memorial to all the people that died during the 9/11 attacks.”

A steel plate recovered from the rubble in 2001 is also displayed in the captain’s office - one of the passageways most used by the ship's crew.

“It’s actually from a fire truck that was crushed by one of the towers,” a master chief said.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 20 FEBRUARY 2020. Transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) in Mina Zayed Port. The ship’s bow stem includes seven and a half tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center's twin towers. 1,200 Louisiana workers stayed to keep building the ship after Hurricane Katrina hit the shipyard in August 2005. Ship’s motto is: "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget." (Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Section:
The imposing vessel is viewed as a 'sailing memorial' to the victims of the 9/11 terror attack in New York. Reem Mohammed / The National

“A one-centimetre-square piece of aluminium from United Airlines flight 175 had melted into it. It is small, but so significant.”

In the ship’s steering station, a jacket bearing the crest of the New York Fire Department has also been placed in front of one of the command stations.

It was donated to the crew by Lt Bill Butler in 2015 and is often referred to as the vessel’s “guardian angel”.

“Bill was one of 11 firefighters and five civilians that were trapped inside the south tower when it collapsed on September 11,” Capt Kennedy said.

“They were trapped for about five hours but they all escaped unscathed. Bill was wearing that very uniform when the building fell around him.”

With remembrance photographs and wall hangings dotted throughout the passageways, Capt Kennedy said the ship should serve as a reminder to “never forget”.

On Wednesday, the ship had 1,935 crew on board, including 33 officers, 411 sailors and 691 marines.

Women represented 20 per cent of the sailors and 3 per cent of the marines on board. The average age of a crew member was 22.

Designed as an amphibious transport dock to carry troops and artillery, the USS New York is not classed as a destroyer. But it has an extensive weaponry on board.

USS New York docks in Abu Dhabi. The National
USS New York docks in Abu Dhabi. The National

Equipped with two missile launchers, two 30-millimetre machine guns and two .50 calibre machine guns, the commanding grey warship can carry up to six helicopters or harriers at any one time.

One of three US ships that “roam the waters together”, the USS New York has undertaken several missions, including combat and humanitarian operations.

“Deployments and missions vary. When we are not responding to conflict zones we are supporting efforts to help people and places impacted by natural disasters,” Capt Kennedy said.

The vast USS New York warship docks in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National
The vast USS New York warship docks in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

“We have a craft and crew that has the capabilities to get supplies in and out of places quickly to help people in need.”

It helped deliver aid to the Philippines after tsunamis ravaged several coastal towns and cities.

With some missions keeping the crew at sea for weeks or even months at a time, it is vital their keep both their bodies and minds active.

The ship is about 7 metres tall and the length of about six football pitches, with space for a chapel, library, internet cafe, post office, canteen, supermarket, mini hospital and five main gyms.

Keeping more than 1,900 crew fuelled for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a logistics game. A 21-day rotating menu features meals such as taco Tuesday and pizza and wings Saturday to keep morale high on board.

During active missions, stocks are replenished every seven to 10 days.

During any one exchange, a second smaller vessel travels alongside the USS New York, about 55 metres apart, and transfers about 90,000 kilograms of fuel, food and other essentials using pallets and ziplines.

In January alone, one officer said the ship sold $1 million worth of food to its crew. On its last full deployment, $198,000 worth of energy drinks were sold to crew.

Docked at Mina Zayed in Abu Dhabi, the departure date of the USS New York is unknown. However, Mr Rakolta said the visit showed the bond between the US and the UAE.

“This demonstrates the depth and breadth of relationship of the US and UAE in trying to deter regional aggression,” he said.

More than 1,900 crew are aboard the USS New York, which is currently docked in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National
More than 1,900 crew are aboard the USS New York, which is currently docked in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

“We are working together for the best interests of our countries and the region.”

He said cultural exchange was an important part of that knowledge exchange, too.

“When a sailor or marine is on a ship, they are just that; a sailor or a marine," he said.

“But when they go on shore they become diplomats of our country. They represent the spirit of the US and go out and try to share those values with the country’s citizens.

“During visits to the UAE we not only impact our relationships with Emiratis, there are eight million residents from varying nationalities that can take that message back to their home countries.”

Updated: February 24, 2020 10:46 AM

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