Ships are often handed down from one nation’s navy to another. More often than not, the countries responsible for passing ships along are leading naval powers, like the United States, France, or the United Kingdom. Usually, the ships that get handed down are warships, but recently, the U.S. Navy gave up a replenishment oiler, which ended up going halfway across the world — and then came back.
The Henry J. Kaiser-class oiler, USNS Andrew J. Higgins (T-AO 190), named after the man who designed the famous “Higgins boat,” entered service in 1987. In 1996, after less than a decade of service, she was laid up in reserve for 12 years, part of the post-Cold War drawdown, before the George W. Bush administration offered her to Chile.
USNS Andrew J.Higgins (T-AO 190) during her service with the United States Navy.
Originally, there were plans to build 18 Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers. Two of these, the planned Benjamin Isherwood (T-AO 191) and Henry Eckford (T-AO 192), were halted when nearly complete. Of the remaining 16 vessels, 15 still serve in the United States Navy. In 2010, the USNS Andrew J. Higgins was renamed the Almirante Montt as she was commissioned into the Chilean Navy.
These oilers can hold up to 180,000 barrels of fuel — that’s a lot when you consider that each barrel holds 42 gallons. They have a top speed of 20 knots, a range of 6,000 nautical miles, and have a crew of 86 merchant mariners and 23 Navy personnel. And, to make sure they can keep all that oil, it can be equipped with two Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon systems and also pack a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns.
The Almirante Montt refuels the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Boone (FFG 28) in 2011, shortly after entering Chilean service.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Steve Smith)
Chile maintains a rather prominent navy in South America. For a while, it operated a pair of Brooklyn-class light cruisers alongside a Swedish cruiser. These days, their Navy centers on a mix of former British and Dutch frigates, as well as German-designed submarines.
The Almirante Montt has not exclusively stayed south of the equator. In 2014, Canada got rid of its Protecteur-class replenishment oilers before their replacements could enter service. So, they signed a deal with Chile. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, this Chilean oiler went north to keep the Royal Canadian Navy’s at-sea refueling skills sharp.