* NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Maritime Administration is working out the details of its plan to modernize its aging fleet of civilian ships that could be called into action to support the U.S. military during a large-scale war, the head of the organization said May 6.
The Maritime Administration is charged with maintaining a fleet of 46 ships in the Ready Reserve Force that are on average more than 44 years old, Administrator Mark Buzby noted during a panel discussion at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Those vessels are crewed by civilian mariners that have volunteered to serve.
"Those ships have to be ready to go and answer a five-day readiness [requirement] to move a majority of our [continental U.S.]-based garrison forces overseas in a major contingency," he said. "Forty-four-year-old ships don't rest easy. They need a lot of love, tender care and a lot of money. And that's a continuous challenge."
The situation hasn't improved much over the past year, Buzby said.
"I'm afraid we have not, in terms of actual numbers, gotten any healthier," he said. Readiness has slipped and there is a shortfall of about 1,800 mariners that would be needed for a prolonged sealift effort, he noted.
"Things aren't going to get markedly better until we... start getting more ships online and newer ships online," he said. "The good news I would say is that we are getting much more visibility on the issue."
Buzby's staff has been working with the chief of naval operations' office and the military's Transportation Command to develop an affordable program to acquire the sealift capability that the nation needs, he noted.
"We actually have a path ahead that Congress has...