DULUTH — The first U.S. Navy ship to dock in the local harbor since 1993, when the Navy made regular visits to the Great Lakes, was pictured in a festive bunting Thursday as it docked at Rice’s Point.
The massive, nearly 400ft warship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul is to be commissioned into the Navy in a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday.
On that day, most of her 110 crew members will be invited to “come aboard” in Navy tradition by sprinting onto the gangplank to populate the ship.
“I am beyond proud,” said Cmdr. Alfonza White, the ship’s officer in charge, during Thursday’s media tour. “I have been in the Navy for 27 years. The best part of the Navy is the people. Everything on this ship is above all a question of people and who takes care of it.
A littoral combat ship, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul is designed for defense and combat within 25 miles of shore. It reaches speeds close to 50 mph and its main gun on the foredeck can fire artillery that explodes on impact or near targets within 9 nautical miles.
It is homeported at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. But from there, the possibilities will be endless.
“We’re trained to sail the high seas, and we’re ready to do it,” said White, who began his career on the now decommissioned USS Duluth.
Built in Marinette, Wis., by Fincantieri Marinette Marine on Lake Michigan, the $360 million vessel struggled to reach commissioning. The vessel was christened and launched into the Menominee River on June 15, 2019 at the Fincantieri shipyard, but a design flaw associated with the combination gear high-speed clutch bearings emerged during trials.
The commissioning, which will be the first for a US Navy vessel in Minnesota, has been delayed to 2020 and 2021.
“The crew is resilient,” White said. “We took it in stride and now we’re here.”
The crew has spent the past two years in Florida training on other ships to prepare to operate Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
“I know the ship was being built here in the Midwest, but two years ago we started building a crew, and that’s really the bread and butter of what brings the ship to life,” said Edward Pare, leader of the command. , the ship’s most enlisted man. “We’re going to go through a commissioning ceremony, but this crew has gelled and come together for many years, and it shows.”
The ship is highly maneuverable and is propelled by water jets instead of the more traditional propeller and rudder system.
White explained that when the Minneapolis-Saint Paul is open, its jets handle an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of water every second.
“That’s the amount of thrust vector we’re generating,” White said.
The crew is trained to navigate tight spaces without the aid of tugs. During their 37-day voyage from Florida, the crew gained valuable experience traversing the Soo Locks and other Great Lakes.
“If you’ve ever been on Lake Superior, that’s great,” White said. “Going through the Soo Locks was a great experience for the crew and then entering Lake Superior — beautiful lake, beautiful scenery. We couldn’t ask for more.
The ship is of a ship class that is named after major cities. Larger ships are named after important historical figures, while submarines are named after states.
The naming of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul was made possible by Jodi Green, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy and resident of Minnesota.
White said the Twin Cities and Duluth should be proud to be part of the commissioning of a ship that should be put into action around the world.
“Global access,” White said of why the ship was in Duluth. “It’s part of the world. We are happy to sail all over the world, and this is proof that we can access so many different sites around the world.