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USNS Sirius (T-AFS 8)
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Class: SIRIUS (T-AFS 8, ex British).
Design: British RFA
Displacement (tons): 10,205 light, 16,680 full
Dimensions (feet): 523.25' oa, 498' wl x 72' e/wl x 25.5' max nav
Armament: none
Accommodations: 123 civilians; 47 Navy personnel
Speed (kts.): 19
Propulsion (BHP): 12,700
Machinery: One turbocharged slow speed diesel engine (Wallsend-Sulzer 8RD76), 1 screw

8SIRIUS15 Nov 1980Swan HunterApr 19657 Apr 196618 Jan 1981
9SPICA30 Sep 1981Swan HunterApr 196628 Feb 19674 Nov 1981
10SATURNApr 1983Swan HunterOct 196516 Sep 196613 Dec 1983

AFSNameTInactStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale
8SIRIUST1 Jul 20051 Jul 20051 Jul 2005MA/T5 May 2014
9SPICAT24 Jan 200825 Jan 20086 May 2009Target--
10SATURNT6 Apr 20096 Apr 200927 Oct 2010Target--

Class Notes:
Built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Wallsend-on-Tyne U.K. for the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) service as refrigerated naval store and victualling ships to meet the requirements of aircraft carriers and their escorts, with at least one also carrying air stores. The ships were designed by MoD (Navy) to meet requirements developed in 1963 for replacements for the war-built FORT class, and an order for three ships was placed in December 1964. They were designed and built to the merchant ship standards of the British Board of Trade and their machinery and structural design characteristics were typical of British merchant ships of the era. The vessels featured a midships engine room with breakbulk cargo holds fore and aft. Each cargo hold was serviced by a large elevator. The main deck was sheltered and allowed for forklifts and other light vehicles to move fore and aft, staging cargo from the cargo holds to the underway replenishment stations for further transfer to other vessels. Each had six sliding-block replenishment rigs similar to those of contemporary U.S. ships and was propelled by a single slow speed diesel engine arranged along typical merchant ship lines. With the decommissioning on February 14, 1979 of HMS ARK ROYAL, the last of the British large-deck aircraft carriers that this class was designed to support, their need decreased. In addition in 1978-79 two new fleet replenishment ships of the FORT GRANGE class entered RFA service making TARBATNESS and two other RFA replenishment ships, RESURGENT and RETAINER, immediately redundant.

RFA TARBATNESS arrived at Rosyth on 9 April 1979 to commence a destore that ended her role as a Stores Support Ship. She was then taken in hand in August 1979 for conversion a LPA (Landing Platform Auxiliary) for the Royal Marines, including the conversion of the hold space into accommodation for a full commando group and the construction of a hanger for three Gazelle helicopters. This plan was cancelled and on 1 April 1980 she was laid up at Gibraltar. Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent Iran-Iraq war the U.S. Navy chartered RFA LYNESS on 15 November 1980 with an option to purchase, and she steamed for Norfolk in December 1980 and was named USNS SIRIUS before deploying to the Mediterranean in early 1981. TARBATNESS was reactivated at Gibraltar on 2 July 1981 and after a refit on the Tyne sailed on 23 September 1981 on her delivery run to the USA after which she became USNS SPICA. RFA STROMNESS commenced destoring in February 1982 prior to her withdrawal from service as a UK Defence Economy Measure, but after rapidly restoring she sailed on 7 April 1982 from Portsmouth for service during the Falklands conflict carrying stores, ammunition, and 429 Royal Marines. After returning from the Falklands she sailed from Devonport on 2 December 1982 for refit at Gibraltar, on completion of which she was chartered to the U.S. Navy as USNS SATURN.

By October 1983 all three vessels were supporting the U.S. Navy’s two carrier battle groups then serving in the Persian Gulf-Indian Ocean area. As delivered from the UK the ships were not considered fully capable combat support ships (AFSs) and SIRIUS, with a small military detachment of only 18 men, instead alternated deployments with USNS RIGEL (T-AF 58). SIRIUS was upgraded in 1983 during a yard period at Braswell Shipyard in Charleston, South Carolina, to a fully capable AFS, receiving a hanger for two UH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, five STREAM transfer stations, enhanced communications capabilities, and conversion to use U.S. Navy fuel. She was then placed in the regular AFS rotation with the other Atlantic Fleet AFSs, SYLVANIA, CONCORD, and SAN DIEGO. SATURN was similarly modernized with FY 1985 funds and SPICA followed in early 1986 at the Burrard-Yarrows yard in North Vancouver, Canada. The starboard forward station was later fitted as a fueling station for escorts as in the MARS (AFS 1) class with an outrigger at the top of the kingpost. The 1986/87 Combat Fleets of the World reported that they were "very successful, comfortable ships -- a useful bargain." SIRIUS underwent a major overhaul in 2004 in preparation for continued naval service until September 2010, but in early 2005 budget cutbacks forced the navy to decommission her by the end of that year.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) took advantage of this development to obtain SIRIUS as a prospective training ship for the Texas Maritime Academy (Texas A & M University) at Galveston to replace TEXAS CLIPPER II (ex USNS CHAUVENET, T-AGS 29). The navy delivered SIRIUS to MARAD at the Texas Maritime Academy that summer. Within two months MARAD activated her for emergency relief operations after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in August and September. On September 10 SIRIUS steamed from Galveston arriving two days later at the Nashville Avenue Wharf in New Orleans where she provided berthing and meals for port workers and Federal responders. On November 23 SIRIUS left New Orleans for Lake Charles, Louisiana where she continued to provide berthing and meals to college students, port workers and Federal responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, which made landfall less than one month after Katrina came ashore. SIRIUS remained in Lake Charles until early March 2006 and returned to Galveston in the spring of 2006. MARAD then resumed planning for the training ship conversion, but although the technical challenges to upgrading and converting the British-built vessel to bring her into compliance with U.S. Coast Guard inspection regulations were not insurmountable, budgetary constraints prevented dedicated conversion funding from being appropriated. This and the passage of time eventually pushed MARAD to cancel her conversion in November 2008 and seek other options for a Texas training ship. In 2009 MARAD selected CAPE GIBSON, ex PRESIDENT JACKSON, ex INDIAN MAIL, a C5-S-75a cargo ship launched in 1968 by Newport News for the American Mail Line. CAPE GIBSON was docked at the Academy on 19 October 2009 and was renamed TEXAS CLIPPER IV, but the sum of almost $20m needed to upgrade her to go to sea again in the training role for some 300 cadets could not be found and she was replaced in 2012 by the much smaller GENERAL RUDDER, ex USNS CONTENDER (T-AGOS 2). With no other employment for SIRIUS, MARAD downgraded her on 23 April 2012 from retention to non-retention status in the Beaumont Reserve Fleet.

In contrast with SIRIUS, SPICA and SATURN remained in Navy hands for their entire post-British careers and both were ultimately expended as targets.

Ship Notes:
8SIRIUSEx RFA LYNESS, ordered 7 Dec 1964, in RFA service 22 Dec 1966. Chartered by MSC on 15 November 1980 for 2 to 5 months, arrived at Norfolk 10 December 1980, bareboat chartered there by MSC 17 January 1981, renamed USNS SIRIUS (T-AFS 8) 18 January 1981 and in service, and purchased by MSC 1 March 1982 along with RFA TARBATNESS for $37m. Transferred 1 Jul 2005 through MARAD to Texas Maritime Academy as TEXAS CLIPPER III. Conversion cancelled November 2008, ship returned to MARAD 14 Jan 2009 and left Galveston 25 June 2009 for lay up in the Beaumont Reserve Fleet. MARAD status downgraded 28 Apr 2009 to non-retention in the Beaumont NDRF but upgraded 14 Aug 2009 to retention fleet support. Downgraded again to non-retention 23 Apr 2012. Departed NDRF 28 May 2014 under domestic sale, arrived at Brownsville 1 Jun 2014 and dismantlement complete 22 Jan 2015.
9SPICAEx RFA TARBATNESS, ordered 7 Dec 1964, in RFA service 10 Aug 1967. Sailed 23 September 1981 after a refit on the Tyne for the USA and acquired on time charter by MSC 30 September 1981, renamed USNS SPICA 1 Nov 1981, changed to bareboat charter and in service 4 Nov 1981, and purchased 1 March 1982 along with RFA LYNESS for $37m by MSC. Out of service 24 January 2008, towed from Norfolk and laid up at the Navy Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility (NISMF) at Philadelphia. Sunk as a gunfire and missile target by USS CARNEY (DDG 64) during US naval fleet exercises 6 May 2009 off the U.S. East Coast.
10SATURNEx RFA STROMNESS, ordered 7 Dec 1964, in RFA service 21 Mar 1967. MSC agreed on 27 Jan 1983 to purchase the ship from RFA following her post-Falklands refit at Gibraltar and she arrived at Bayonne, N.J. to await purchase under the FY 1984 budget. Chartered by MSC April 1983, renamed USNS SATURN (T-AFS 10) 9 May 1983, and purchased 1 October 1983 by MSC for $10.5 m. Entered MSC service 13 Dec 1983. Struck 6 April 2009 and laid up at NISMF Philadelphia. Sunk 27 October 2010 off the North Carolina coast as a gun and missile target by ships and aircraft of the GEORGE H W BUSH (CVN 77) carrier strike group.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 1 Feb 2023
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2023
Special sources: National Register Eligibility Assessment, Vessel: USNS SIRIUS (T-AFS-8) ex-RFA LYNESS, posted on vesselhistory.marad.dot.gov/ShipHistory/Detail/5877; RFA Historical Society website: www.historicalrfa.org