HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Oct. 16, 2017) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fuels Recurring Maintenance and Minor Repair Program at Huntsville Center completed a four-month-long overhaul project Sept. 23 on the first set of marine loading arms at U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

Marine loading arms are used for transferring gases and liquids, usually fuel, between shore and ship. The movable arms have swivel joints and are made to shift with the movement of a floating vessel.

Under the program, Pond Constructors and Kikkawa Co. Ltd. were contracted to overhaul a total of 12 loading arms. Work on the first four arms started in May, and they have since passed final tests to become operational.

The program maintains and repairs marine loading arms all over the U.S. and in Japan. Twenty percent of the marine loading arms under the program's purview are at the Sasebo base.

"Minor" may be in the program's name, but Project Manager Tracy Helmick calls this endeavor "a large undertaking." These particular arms are each about 60 feet tall and weigh between 40,000 and 60,000 pounds, but before any work began, contractors needed to completely remove them from the fuel terminal.

"They came all the way down off the wharf, were put on a barge and taken to an off-site," said Helmick. "They were completely torn apart. Every joint where there was a swivel or a seal was replaced."

Keith Southard, mechanical engineer assigned to the Operations Division in the Engineering Directorate here, was on site in Japan for a week to witness final testing, provide quality assurance and safety oversight, and ensure the contractors were meeting the Navy's expectations.

"They made a few adjustments to the arms and got them operational," Southard said. "Within a week they were ahead of schedule. I could really tell they knew what they were doing. They look brand-new again."

Southard added that overhauls are typically due for marine loading arms every 10 years to ensure their reliability. He said marine loading arms that are working beyond their 10-year recommended lifecycle may gradually become difficult to operate and develop leaks.

To keep pace with future overhauls on marine loading arms, Helmick said the Fuels program has started an effort to tackle the work for each arm more systematically.

"We've laid out a plan that makes it a three-year process that will begin the third year before an overhaul is due," said Helmick. "We back up three years before the overhaul is due, and we'll start the process then. That's not been in place before."

Helmick visited Sasebo herself in May when work first began.

"You really don't get a good appreciation until you see the work in person, I think," said Helmick. "I can look at pictures and I can kind of judge, but to actually be there to witness any corrections that needed to be made on the spot and just see the overall [picture] -- how big they really are and the importance of the mission -- it just really helps bring it all home what we're doing and why we're doing it."