“SS Cape Intrepid and SS Cape Island” ©2008 Jessica Spengler, Creative Commons License

If you’ve driven down Ruston Way Tacoma, you’ve seen them; some may call them “Navy ships” or “those big gray boats.” Whatever you call them, chances are you’ve probably stolen a sideways glance at the behemoth ships as you drive by, wondering what they are, why they’re there, and what goes on inside of them.

The two boats that reside along Ruston Way just east of Tacoma’s Chinese Reconciliation Park are twin sister ships S.S. Cape Island and S.S. Cape Intrepid. And contrary to what many believe, they do not belong to the U.S. Navy but to the Maritime Administration that falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Maritime Administration hosts a Ready Reserve Force, which means they are on standby in the event that the government needs them, according to Kevin Tokarski, associate administrator for strategic sealift at the Maritime Administration. This means the ships can be activated and stocked with supplies for anything from hurricane relief to support of wartime operations.

The program is funded by appropriated funds from Congress through the National Defense Sealift fund.

The 10 crewmembers that currently work on the ships each day are managed by Crowley Technical Management. Their jobs are to keep the ships in perfect working order, and at the highest level of readiness.

“Think of it like your personal house: there’s always work to do at your house; it’s like that on a ship too,” Tokarski said. “There is always something to work on and maintain.”

Tokarski says that the ships have been strategically placed in the Tacoma area.

“The ships are designated to be in a particular region to support the Department of Defense requirements,” he said. “Those two ships are strategically located in close proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord as well as the commercial Port facilities in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia.”

Tokarski says he is grateful to the community. “We know that there has been some folks that have complained about noise from the ships, so we have tried to work with those groups and we have adjusted our practices so we can be good neighbors,” he said. “We find ways to work on noise abatement. We work on lighting so we are not obstructing people’s view of the beautiful waterway there, and we also provide local notice before an exercise so that the community understands when the ship is getting underway.”

Fact Sheet:

Year built: 1976

Type of ships: Roll-on/roll-off vehicle carrier

Ship lengths: 684.8 feet

Beams: 102 feet

Mast heights: 157.5 feet

Net tons: 9,255 tons

Gross tons: 30,852 tons

Cargo capacities: 149,088 square feet

Engine types: Steam turbine

RRF max speeds: 20.5 knots

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