Now, here’s a mystery ship – a ship that hardly exists!
Well, it exists, but doesn’t advertise its existence, or what it really does.
It is currently alongside at Berths C/D/E Victoria Quay, Fremantle Harbour, where the big cruise ships were berthed last week.
I spotted her from the centre of Fremantle this morning as I was doing some Christmas shopping, and as I drew closer became intrigued by her strange shape.
So, I took myself down to the Quay proper and found myself near the vessel’s stern, which looks a bit like those of the huge RO-ROs we regularly see in port, but plainly not a stern attached to a real RO-RO. There wasn’t a Tesla in sight!
But what intrigued me most was that I couldn’t quite see her name, and when I looked on the Marine Traffic and Vessel Finder ship tracking apps to find out more, I couldn’t see her in port. No vessel appeared alongside C/D/E Berths. To all intents and purposes she was not in Fremantle Port.
Then I checked on Fremantle Ports Voyager listing system under Ships In Port and discovered a vessel called Ocean Trader, vehicle carrier, was indeed scheduled to be at these very berths, the berths I was looking at – Berths C/D/E, Victoria Quay. She was shown as being in from Singapore.
How odd, I thought. What is this strange looking vessel?
So then I looked up Marine Traffic to see where they currently located Ocean Trader, if anywhere, and low and behold discovered that a ship that looked identical to the Ocean Trader in front of me in Fremantle was in Gibraltar! Well, that is, when I looked more closely, in Gibraltar 5 years ago!
So I double checked on Vessel Finder to see where it located her, and discovered they don’t show this particular vessel anywhere.
She doesn’t like to be tracked, obviously!
So what on earth is this ship?
Here she is again, as of 7 December, courtesy of our Shipping Correspondent, Jean Hudson.
Plainly not your ordinary vehicle carrier.
I wondered. Sometimes vessels do arrive in Freo without any fanfare and have interesting stories they don’t share. Could this vessel be some sort of Phantom masquerading as an ordinary craft on the seas. Not Ghost Who Walks, but Ship Who Sails.
And, I asked myself, did the fact she was sailing under the Stars and Stripes flag of the USA indicate anything?
After some Google research I discovered that in 2016, ship watchers were wondering what Ocean Trader really was. Under the banner heading, Navy’s Stealthiest Warship May Be A Merchant Vessel, Marine – Executive reported that –
“… if one was to ask what is the stealthiest ship in the U.S. Navy, the answer may prove surprising. It is not USS Zumwalt, the newest destroyer in the fleet. It is also not the most recent Virginia or Seawolf-class submarine, and it most assuredly is not one of the littoral combat ships. The ship that holds this title is not even a commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy, or owned by the government, but leased from one of the largest ship operators in the world. MV Ocean Trader, chartered by the Military Sealift Command for the U.S. Special Operations Command, most assuredly holds this title.”
Then in Driver.com I discovered a June 2018 feature titled, Warzone, in which Tyler Rogoway had also written about Ocean Trader –
“Ever since we posted the first known picture of the Pentagon’s full outfitted special operations mothership — a vessel that is truly designed to hide in plain sight — more information about the shadowy ship’s activities has been trickling in. We recently got another fragmented view of it, taken during a port call in Seychelles just two months after it popped up at a dry dock facility in Oman in early January of this year. In the year and a half before its arrival in Oman, it seems to have spent a good amount of time in the Mediterranean and possibly the Baltic Sea as well. But before it left on its maiden voyage in mid-2016, it stopped off in Norfolk, Virginia where it was loaded up with personnel and gear, including with a squad of stealthy special operations fast-boats.”
Tyler wondered what types of craft would fill the ‘ironically named M/V Ocean Trader’s four launch and recovery bays located on the ship’s starboard side’. He thought the most likely option seemed to be rigid-hull inflatable boats, like the 11 metre Naval Special Warfare RHIB. But, he added, it turns out the ship totes around far more advanced vessels in the form of the stealthy Combat Craft-Assault.
Driver.com posted a couple nice pics taken by David Kozdron when he spotted her in Virginia.
Tyler said the photos offered a better view of its massive communications suite and gave a better idea of the overall size of its hangars in relation to the vehicles on its deck.
He said there also appeared to be a launcher for Insitu drones on the ship’s stern flight deck area.
Here are our photographs from this morning which give you an idea of these features of the vessel.
So, there your are – the US Navy’s ’Stealthiest Warship’ appears to have popped up in Freo!
Just a reminder that even in lil’ old Freo you’re that all not far away from the rest of the world.
* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News
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