The U.S. government has contracted with Paradise Cruise Lines for their luxury, ocean-going cruise ship the Grand Celebration. Until the end of December, Grand Celebration will be used to feed, house, and transport National Guard Soldiers supporting hurricane recovery efforts in the Caribbean. An unknown number of Soldiers will call this cruise ship their “home away from home” for the next three months.
Under contract to FEMA, “Celebration” is the only ship in the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s fleet and is home-ported in Palm Beach, Florida. The 1,900-passenger ship will now be in direct support of Soldiers rebuilding and providing security to the U.S. territories devastated by two enormous hurricanes.
“Celebration” will arrive in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., Saturday, September 23. The cruise liner was initially scheduled to stay until the end of the year but after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 with winds of 155 mph, tore through Puerto Rico today, the ship’s contract might need to be extended. The entire island of three million people is officially without power.
It is unknown how much FEMA paid for the three-month contract for the Grand Celebration, but tourists cruising to the devastated islands will be almost non-existent for months. The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines just made the deal of a lifetime.
The units of National Guard Soldiers who will be housed aboard the Grand Celebration have yet to be identified.
In the wake of two at-sea collisions this year, followed by the firing of the 7th Fleet’s Commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the United States Navy is now showing what it is really made of. The Navy has literally provided floating infrastructure as Harvey swallowed up the Texas coastline and Irma blew the walls down in the Caribbean Islands.
The Navy as well as the Coast Guard became first responders in Texas; they arrived with air support and ground troops to rescue people left stranded by epic flooding. U.S.S. Kearsarge and U.S.S. Oak Hill arrived with food, water, military surgical teams, communications teams, and maintenance personnel.
And then Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands, Key West, and northern parts of Florida. The Navy immediately queued the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Iwo Jima, the aircraft carrier U.S.S Abraham Lincoln, and redirected Oak Hill and Kearsarge to the hardest hit areas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Abraham Lincoln has been purifying and desalinating sea water with sailors dropping pallets of five-gallon containers, via aircraft, over the Keys.
Seabees, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 202 are performing route clearance on the island of St. John.
The Navy has also deployed sailors as security forces to St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix to protect hurricane survivors from marauding thieves and looters following the largest recorded hurricane in the region. Hurricane Irma had sustained winds of 185 mph for the bigger part of 37 hours.
Infrastructure in the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands has always been fragile. Highways were constructed in St. Thomas and St. John by the U.S. Navy in 1917. They have been repaired but not improved in the last one-hundred years.