USS Vella Gulf Has More Problems, Extending its Stay in Norfolk

Six weeks after cutting short its deployment to return to Norfolk for repairs, USS Vella Gulf sailors making final check before heading out to sea again found welding slag and bits of metal in a strainer on the cruiser’s lube oil system.

It was more bad news for a crew that’s already been away from home for 100 days.

They’ll have to stay in port and remain on board in a COVID-19 bubble while contractors come in and flush the ships entire lubrication oil system, Capt. Michael Desmond said in a broadcast to the crew last week, a recording of which was obtained by the Daily Press.

“Had these shown up elsewhere in our main reduction gear system we would have been in quite a pickle, a bigger pickle than we’re in now,” he told the crew, referring to the gears that connect the ship’s engines to its two propeller shafts.

“We’ve got to get that stuff out of our system,” he said,

The Vella Gulf had to return to Norfolk on Feb 26, shortly after leaving on deployment with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group, when crew members found a fuel oil leak while operating in heavy seas. It headed out in mid-March to test repairs to the fuel oil system, but had to return to Norfolk again for more work on a fuel tank.

“Leadership continues to work with technical experts, who have been onboard 24/7, to evaluate and assess the best course of action for both ship material readiness and crew well-being,” said Lt. Marycate Walsh, of US Second Fleet.

She said Navy leaders are focused on the well-being of the crew, organizing a series of special services, ranging from two Beer on the Pier events to four separate drop-offs for families to leave care-packages. The Navy has hooked up the ship to cable TV, sent additional laundry machines and exercise equipment, eased some uniform requirements and arranged three “catering” events; two from Chick-Fila and one from Mission BBQ.

Desmond told the crew that their time away from the strike group would still be counted as deployment service, with no intention to add time at sea as the group’s deployment ends. This is the second deployment in less than a year for the Vella Gulf, which returned to Norfolk along with the Eisenhower in August 2020.

In service since 1993, the Vella Gulf is the type of cruiser that the Navy has proposed retiring – a proposal opposed by some members of Congress, including Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk.

Luria said the Vella Gulf’s problems show that “the ships should be evaluated hull-by-hull based on what mechanical and combat systems upgrades have already been accomplished as well as other current material condition problems.”

She said it is not acceptable “To wholesale say that we are going to decommission 10 cruisers” because the Navy needs to be a larger presence around the world “and specifically in response to China’s growing aggression.”

This article is written by Dave Ress from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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