April 17, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

US Army ships heading to Gaza, arrive in Crete

US Army ships on their way to Gaza are part of the increased efforts by US-Israeli cooperation to increase humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
April 17, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

US Army ships heading to Gaza, arrive in Crete

US Army ships on their way to Gaza are part of the increased efforts by US-Israeli cooperation to increase humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

US Army ships heading for the Gaza Strip to build a temporary pier or floating dock have arrived in Crete, according to vessel-tracking websites.

The ships left Fort Eustis on the James River on March 12 to make their way across the Atlantic Ocean to Gaza after a stampede in March near a convoy of food trucks led to some 100 deaths.

Today, Israel has opened a new northern crossing to Gaza, more trucks are crossing into the Hamas-run enclave, and the humanitarian situation has improved.

The armada of ships includes five US Army watercraft, including the USAV James A. Loux (LSV-6), USAV Montorrey (LCU-2030), USAV Matamoros (LCU-2026), USAV General Frank S. Besson Jr. (LSV-1) and USAV Wilson Wharf (LCU-2011).

They traveled down Chesapeake Bay and then headed south along the coast of the Carolinas into the open sea, passing Bermuda to arrive off the coast of Spain and Africa.

The ships are part of the US Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade of the 18th Airborne Corps. Back in March US Central Command said the ships “from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, XVIII Airborne Corps, departed Joint Base Langley-Eustis en route to the Eastern Mediterranean to establish a roll-on, roll-off dock capability that allows the ship to shore humanitarian assistance to Gaza. SP4 James A. Loux, Monterrey, Matamoros, and Wilson Wharf are carrying equipment and supplies needed to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies.”

According to the Vessel Finder website the ships are now moored at the Crete naval base that in Souda Bay. These include the USAV Matamoros, USAV James A. Loux, USAV Montorrey and USAV General Frank S. Besson Jr. The USAV Wilson’s Wharf however appears to be in the Canary Islands at a port near Tenerife. It’s not clear why it is lagging behind or if it was dispatched for a different mission.

US naval base in Crete

The Crete naval base includes the US Naval Support Activity (NSA) at Souda Bay which is located near the Hellenic (Greek) Air Force Base near the village of Mouzouras. According to Military.com this site “occupies an area of approximately 110 acres on the north side of the air base, which is home to the Hellenic Air Force’s 115th Combat Wing flying F-16 aircraft.

They are physically located on the large, circular-shaped Akrotiri Peninsula, which forms the northern face of Souda Harbor.” This is “an operational ashore installation which enables and supports US, Allied, Coalition, and Partner nation forces to preserve security and stability in the European, African, and Central Command areas of responsibility,” according to the site.

The Crete naval base has facilities for the Hellenic Navy and NATO. It is the second largest base of the Hellenic navy and is one of the key NATO bases in the eastern Mediterranean.

The area is near the picturesque city of Chania, which has a 14th-century Venetian harbor. It’s not clear how long the ships will remain in port, and it remains to be seen whether the temporary floating dock or pier is still necessary in Gaza.

Nevertheless, the voyage of the American armada has been an important logistical trial to see how these ships can cross oceans and bring essential capabilities to a conflict zone. If they do arrive in Gaza, this will provide much-needed training in a real-time crisis.

Difficulties facing this mission have been made more complicated by the killing of seven humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen on April 1. This caused WCK and the UAE to pause support for the maritime corridor from Cyprus to Gaza, which had been offloading goods to a pier the IDF constructed that abuts the Netzarim corridor.

The status of this corridor is not clear today, but it is expected to return to service. The Spanish ship Open Arms, which was working with the aid workers, is still in Cyprus after it returned there on April 2 carrying tons of goods that could not be offloaded due to the killing of the WCK staff. 

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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