Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet is part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), owned and operated by U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration (MARAD). Established by the Merchant Ship Act of 1946, NDRF serves as a reserve which could be activated to meet shipping requirements during national emergencies. During World War II, over 3000 commercial type ships were built by the Maritime Commission to support the Allied war effort. After the war, those ships that could not be absorbed into commercial service were laid up in reserve, to be preserved and utilized in the future as needed.
At its peek, 2,277 ships were in reserve in the NDRF at eight sites nation-wide. In the 1950's these sites were consolidated into three sites: James River, VA, Beaumont, TX, and here in Suisun Bay.
A Ready Reserve Fleet component was established in 1976 as a subset of the NDRF to provide rapid deployment of equipment and became known as Ready Reserve Force (RRF) in 1984.
In addition to World War II, NDRF vessels have supported emergency shipping requirement in seven wars and crises. Such as the Korean War, 540 vessels were broken out to support military forces. A world wide tonnage shortfall in 1951 - 1953 required over 600 ships to be reactivated to lift coal to Europe. From 1955 - 1964, another 600 ships were used to store grain for the Department of Agriculture. Another tonnage shortfall following the Suez Canal closing in 1956 saw 223 cargo ships and 29 tankers activated from the NDRF. In 1961 Berlin crisis 18 vessels were activated while 172 vessels were activated for Vietnam conflict.
The fleet is comprised of ex-commercial cargo ships, tankers and U.S. Navy inactive vessels. Over the years the Mothball Fleet, here in Suisun Bay, has included some famous and infamous sea craft such as Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien. The GloMar Explorer, built for the CIA in 1974 by Howard Hughes, and Naval Cruisers.
Ships at Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet are held in varying states of preservation, with maintenance performed by civilian Reserve Fleet personnel, using effective and cost efficient methods.
· Dehumidification equipment is used to preserve the interior of the vessels. Cathodic protection preserves the underwater hulls.
· Regular painting of the ships exteriors above water line has been discontinued, as this is mostly cosmetic.
· One component of the NDRF, the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships, undergoes more intensive maintenance of the ships internal systems and cargo handling equipment. With this maintenance and special lay up techniques, RRF vessels can be reactivated in as little as five days.
· Ships are scrapped when deemed no longer useful, with the scrap sale proceed used for the upkeep of the NDRF.
The Coast Guard uses these vessels to train firefighting crews and oil spill response teams. Marines from all over the country practice storming Mothball ships with small crafts and helicopters.
In addition to these benefits, these ships provide ideal protective cover for the Bay's sturgeon, steel-heads and Chinook salmon.