Keel laid for first US Navy John Lewis-class oiler

Ship's namesake Rep. John Lewis (D Ga.), and ship’s sponsor, actress Alfre Woodard, weld their initials onto a steel plate that will be affixed to the keel of future USNS John Lewis. Photo: NASSCO

A keel-laying ceremony for the first in a new class of US Military Sealift Command operated oilers was held at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego on May 13.

Kevin Graney, NASSCO president welcomed ship namesake, Rep. John Lewis (D Ga.), and ship’s sponsor, actress Alfre Woodard who attended the ceremony.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be here today in the capacity of sponsor to this great ship,” said Woodard in her remarks. “As a leader, John Lewis is a bright light in the service of our country. May this ship be a beacon in times of darkness.”

The time honored tradition of the keel laying, marks the official start of construction of the ship. Part of the tradition is for the sponsor to weld their initials into the keel plate of the new ship. The steel plate with their initials will be permanently affixed to the ship’s keel, remaining with the vessel through its time in service.

“I tried to promise myself that I would not be overcome, but this is too much,” said Lewis.

USNS John Lewis will serve the United States Navy as a replenishment oiler under the control of MSC. It is the first in a class of 20 perspective ships that will be built.

The ship honors Lewis, a 17 term congressman and a well-known civil rights activist, known for his courage during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He organized voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. He led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, where the group was attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Throughout his life, Lewis has remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence, and continues to advocate for peace throughout the world.

“We need great ships, like this one, to carry our men and women in our continued work for peace, because we are one world,” said Lewis.

Following construction and christening, the ship will go through tests and inspections before joining the MSC fleet of over 120 ships.

Each John Lewis-class ship will have capacity to carry 156,000 barrels of fuel oil and provide significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and will operate at speeds of up to 20 knots.

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