USS Orion (AS-18) - James River
USS Orion (AS-18) - James River

Orion again changed homeport to La Maddalena, Italy, servicing ships of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea until 1993, when she was relieved by the USS Simon Lake (AS-33). Orion returned to the United States and was decommissioned September 3, 1993. Ex-Orion was transferred to the Maritime Administration for storage 1 May 1999 and sold to North American Ship Recycling, Baltimore, Maryland to be dismantled on 27 July 2006.

The National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) was established under Section 11 of the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946 to serve as a reserve of ships for national defense and national emergency purposes. It is a different entity than the United States Navy reserve fleets, which includes warships. Under the custody of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration, the NDRF consists primarily of merchant ships, with fewer warships. Merchant ships can be activated within 20 - 120 days for a military or non-military emergency, such as commercial shipping crises.

Vessels with military utility or logistic value are held in retention status and are in a preservation program that is designed to keep them in the same condition as when they enter the fleet. Dehumidification of the internal spaces is an effective means of controlling the corrosion of metal and the growth of mold or mildew. A cathodic protection system uses an impressed current where DC power is distributed through anodes to the exterior underwater portions of the hull, resulting in an electric field that suppresses corrosion and preserves the surface of the hull. External painting and other cosmetic-appearance work is generally deferred since it is not detrimental to the ability to activate and operate the vessel.

Prior to RRF operations, NDRF vessels supported emergency shipping requirements in seven wars and crises. During the Korean War, 540 vessels were broken out to support military forces. A worldwide tonnage shortfall in 1951-1953 required over 600 ships to be reactivated to lift coal to Northern Europe and grain to India. From 1955 through 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. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, 18 vessels were activated and remained in service until 1970. The Vietnam conflict caused 172 vessels to be activated.

Inactive naval ships of merchant design, including amphibious ships but not ships maintained in a mobilization status by MARAD for Military Sealift Command (MSC), may be laid up in the NDRF when overcrowded berthing conditions exist at a Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility. Battleships, cruisers, and aircraft carriers which have been stricken or those awaiting final disposition may be transferred to MARAD locations for berthing. Initially, these ships will be transferred to MARAD for caretaking in accordance with the Economy Act of 1932.

Ships transferred to the NDRF may be retained in Navy Mobilization Plans and maintained by MARAD under priorities set by the Department of the Navy. If the Navy decides it no longer needs the ship, the Secretary of the Navy strikes the ship from the Naval Vessel Register and transfers the title to MARAD. When possible, MARAD gets first disposition rights, which allows it to convert merchant ships to the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) or to sell the ship for scrapping in connection with the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, Sect. 510 (i) and use the proceeds to buy more supply ships.

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