The first of the Navy’s new T-ATS class of open ocean towing, salvage and rescue vessels will be named the Navajo, continuing a tradition of naming those ships for Native American nations and people, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer announced Tuesday.

The 262.8'x59.06'x24.61' vessel designated T-ATS, to be built at Gulf Island Shipyards, Houma, La., under a $63.5 million contract, will be based on an existing commercial offshore towing design, to replace the Navy’s current T-ATF and T-ARS 50 ships serving under the U.S. Military Sealift Command.

Features will include an ABS-classed DP-2 dynamic positioning system, deck machinery by MacGregor to provide bollard pull of 160 tons, and a 6,000-sq.-ft. working deck.

“These boats have to be built to a parent craft design, meaning a boat that has been built before, something proven and in service,” Cliff Long, Gulf Island’s general manager, said in a November 2018 interview with WorkBoat. “It’s very similar to the setup of an anchor handler, so we’re very familiar with that type of construction.”

The Navajo name evokes the Navy’s history during World War II in the Pacific, when Navajo “code talkers” used their traditional language to keep Marine radio communications secure from Japanese monitoring. First recruited during World War I to frustrate eavesdropping on Army telephone lines in France, code talkers from the Comanche and other nations also served during World War II in Europe and North Africa.

“The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,” Spencer said in announcing the name. “The Navajo class of towing, salvage, and rescue ships will serve our nation and continue the legacy of the Navajo people, and all Native Americans.”

The contract includes $522.7 million in options for up to seven additional vessels, which are to be likewise named in honor of prominent Native Americans or Native American tribes, Navy officials said.

The design by Gulf Island and Wärtsilä will have its main propulsion come from twin Wartsila 8L32 diesel engines, each producing 6,217 hp at 750 rpm. A pair of Wärtsilä 3700 mm (145″), controllable pitch, 4-bladed props and Wärtsilä marine gears will give the vessel a running speed of 13 knots.

With accommodations for up to 65 crew, the T-ATS will have tankage for 400 cu. meters of fuel, 270 cu. meters of fresh water, and 825 cu. meters of salvage storage space, and 375 cu. meters for storing mission equipment. The MacGregor deck equipment package will include a towing winch, traction winch, knuckle boom crane, Triplex shark jaws, tow pins and stern roller.

Classifications will include Maltese Cross A1, Maltese Cross ACCU, Towing Vessel, E, Maltese Cross AMS, Maltese Cross DPS-2, CRC (OC-SUBSEA), and UWILD. The new class will serve as open ocean towing vessels and in support of salvage operations and submarine rescue missions. The Navajo is expected to be completed in March 2021.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.