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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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The Navy built a ‘fast, agile’ warship for $440M. It’s been stuck in ice since Christmas Eve

The commissioning of the USS Little Rock was held in Buffalo, New York, last month, on a day so cold that people’s breath billowed through the air as they spoke.

Partway through the ceremony, snow began falling — sideways — on the thousands of attendees.

It might have been a sign.

Still, none of it stopped a string of military officials and a bundled-up delegation from Arkansas from singing the praises of the Navy’s newest warship for more than an hour.

One Navy official spoke of the combat ship’s "adaptability, speed and maneuverability." A Navy chaplain bowed his head in prayer to bless the Little Rock before it sailed to its home port, Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.

"We commend this ship, the USS Little Rock, to your care and divine providence," the chaplain said. "Grant them fair winds and following seas."

Despite the benedictions, the ship’s initial voyage has gotten off to a rather inauspicious start. A week after it was commissioned, as it made its way up the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the USS Little Rock became trapped by ice near Montreal.

It has remained stuck there since Christmas Eve, the Toronto Star first reported, thanks to "unusually heavy ice conditions."

A Navy spokeswoman told the newspaper that other ships had made it through the area without trouble in December.

"The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal, and included near-record low temperatures, which created significant and historical conditions in the late December, early January time frame," Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson told the newspaper.

Temporary heaters and 16 de-icers have been added to the USS Little Rock, and its crew members — some 70 officers and personnel in all — have been given new cold-weather clothing while staying on the ship for training and certification during the delay, Hillson added.

"Keeping the ship in Montreal until waterways are clear ensures the safety of the ship and crew, and will have limited impact on the ship’s operational schedule," she told the Star.

It’s unclear how long it will take before the waterways near the trapped ship are navigable again or whether the Navy considered sending in icebreakers to free the USS Little Rock.

Hillson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning.

According to the Navy’s website, the USS Little Rock is a 389-ft-long littoral combat ship — "a fast, agile, mission-focused platform designed to operate in near-shore environments, while capable of open-ocean tasking and winning against 21st-century coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and swarming small craft."

It uses "two gas turbine engines, two propulsion diesels and four waterjets to speeds up to 45-plus knots" — when it’s not surrounded by ice, that is.

The USS Little Rock was named after another ship that was commissioned in 1945, at the end of World War II.

The original USS Little Rock was ultimately taken out of service in 1976 and now rests as part of a museum in Buffalo’s waterfront district, along with other decommissioned naval ships.

As Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown pointed out at the December ceremony, the commissioning of the second USS Little Rock was the first time in the Navy’s 242-year history that a ship was commissioned alongside its namesake.

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