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U.S. Navy Christens First-in-Class Fleet Oiler USNS John Lewis

usns john lewis
Image courtesy USN

Published Jul 19, 2021 6:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

The USNS John Lewis, the first ship in a new class of U.S. Navy fleet oilers, was christened July 17 in a ceremony in San Diego. The Lewis-class will replace the Avondale-built Henry J. Kaiser-class, which first entered service in 1986. 12 out of the 15 Kaiser-class oilers are single-hulled tankers, and they would not comply with OPA-90 if they were in commercial maritime service; the new Lewis-class will all be double-hulled.

The Lewis-class will be able to carry 160,000 barrels of fuel to support carrier strike group operations. Like the Kaiser-class, the Lewis-class oilers have fine lines for tank vessels, and they will be capable of making up to 20 knots.

USNS John Lewis takes her name from a nontraditional choice: the activist and politician Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a leading figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1963-65, Lewis served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) - at the time, a highly controversial protest group - and he played a leading role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, the forum for Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. His prominent role in the movement for equal rights for African-American citizens propelled Lewis to a 17-term career in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he continued his advocacy efforts. Rep. Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 at the age of 80.

Rep. John Lewis, right, at the keel-laying for the USNS John Lewis, 2019 (USN)

"The christening ceremony today takes on a very special meaning, for it marks the one-year anniversary, to the day, of John Lewis’ passing," said Dave Carver, president of shipbuilder General Dynamics NASSCO. "Just as its namesake, this majestic vessel will be instrumental in shaping the future of our nation. The shipbuilders of NASSCO are proud to ensure Congressman John Lewis’ legacy will live on in this ship."

In a change of course for the Navy, the next five vessels in the series will also be named for prominent civil rights leaders. The second in the class will be named USNS Harvey Milk after the former mayor of San Francisco, and she will be the first ship in the Navy named after an openly gay leader. The other namesakes include Earl Warren, the Supreme Court chief justice who helped abolish segregation of public schools and end state-level bans on interracial marriage; Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general and pro-civil rights politician who was assassinated in 1968; Lucy Stone, a Civil War-era women's rights activist; and the abolitionist movement icon Sojourner Truth.