Navy Deploying Ships, 260 Sailors to Help Operate Gaza Aid Pier

by Braxton Taylor

The Navy will deploy a host of logistics vessels and around 260 sailors to help operate the pier system being spearheaded by the Army to provide millions of meals and supplies to the Gaza Strip. Many Gaza residents are starving as Israel lays siege to the region after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli settlements.

A Navy official who spoke to reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity said that the sea service’s Naval Beach Group 1 will deploy the USNS 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez and the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo with enough watercraft and equipment to operate a huge floating dock three miles off the coast of Gaza that will serve as the first stop for goods bound for the beleaguered territory.

The dock, which the official said will measure 240 by 72 feet, will be moved around by a pair of tugboats. “We will push it up alongside a cargo vessel. The cargo vessel’s cranes will then lower the containers down onto that platform,” the official said, at which point “we will then use … container forklifts to put those containers onto a tractor trailer for further transfer onto a watercraft.”

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From the floating pier, the official said that other watercraft will move those vehicles to the 800- to 2,000-foot-long Army-constructed pier that will be anchored to the beach and drive the trailers onto land.

“The people driving … will not be U.S. forces, they will be other drivers,” the Navy official said.

Along with the components of the floating dock — also known as a “roll-on/roll-off facility” — the Lopez and the Bobo will carry three ferries that act as motorized barges and other small boats to move people around between the two ships.

“That will all be loaded on the East Coast,” the official said.

In addition to sailors from the San-Diego based Naval Beach Group 1, others from the Navy’s Cargo Handling Battalion at Fort Story, Virginia, will also join the expedition, the official said.

The details come just over a week after a second wave of four Army ships left a base near Norfolk, Virginia, to begin their monthlong journey to the waters off Gaza with components for the land-based pier.

Army leaders told reporters at the time that roughly 500 soldiers will deploy from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) — 7th TBX for short — to help make the aid plan a reality. However, the now-confirmed 760 service members are still shy of the roughly 1,000 troops Pentagon officials said would be needed to pull off the mission in the days after President Joe Biden announced the plan at his State of the Union address in the first week of March.

Part of the reason that the Biden administration has decided to enact such a complex and slow-moving plan to deliver aid to Gaza is because getting the aid in by land has proven to be ineffective with delays and backlogs developing at the handful of border crossings into the region due to the Israel-Hamas war.

“It would obviously make a huge difference if those trucks could get into Rafah, and this is why you see the State Department and others working with officials in the region to try to facilitate that process,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, told reporters early in March.

The Navy official who spoke to reporters stressed that the dock operations are “a capability that … we exercise routinely — at least annually, if not a couple times a year.”

“We exercise in permissive environments, but our mission set is to conduct this in support of combat operations,” they said, adding that leaders “always go into every exercise with those concerns.”

Neither Army nor Navy officials were able to offer any details on what the promised shore-side security arrangement will look like.

The Navy official also noted that the service is “still in the planning process of figuring out what resupply of the on-station vessels will look like” and whether it will take place in Cyprus or the Navy’s operating base in Crete, Greece.

The Navy also announced last week that it will deploy the M/V Roy Benavidez — “a Bob Hope-class roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship to assist with logistics and humanitarian response mission tasking.”

The ship was loading supplies as of last week and, according to maritime trackers, has yet to sail for the Middle East.

The Benavidez is typically held in a “reduced operating status” by the U.S. Maritime Administration but can be reactivated within five days, according to Navy officials.


Related: Soldiers Said Goodbye to Loved Ones as Army Ships Set Sail to Gaza to Build Pier for Aid Delivery

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