Gulf Island Shipyards has laid the keel for the lead ship of the US Navy’s Navajo-class towing, salvage, and rescue vessels during a ceremony at the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center in Houma, Louisiana.

The future USNS Navajo, which is designated T-ATS 6, has been named after the Native American territory of Navajo Nation.

The keel-laying ceremony marks the start of the T-ATS ship’s construction.

Former Miss Navajo and T-ATS 6 sponsor Jocelyn Billy authenticated the keel.

Program Executive Office Ships support ships, boats and craft programme manager Mike Kosar said: “We are honoured to have so many members of Navajo Nation in attendance to celebrate this early milestone in the shipbuilding process.

“These ships are critical to the operations of our fleet, and will soon sail with the resilience and determination of the Navajo people of which they honour.”

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The Navajo-class vessels will provide ocean-going towing capabilities, as well as support salvage operations and rescue missions.

The new class of vessels will replace the T-ATF 166 and T-ARS 50 ships currently in service with the US Military Sealift Command.

These ships will reach the end of their service lives in 2020.

Ships in the Navajo-class will come with 6,000ft² of deck space to accommodate embarked systems.

USNS Navajo measures 263ft in length and will be able to carry a load of 1,796t.

In April this year, the navy awarded a contract modification to Gulf Island Shipyards for the construction of two additional T-ATS vessels.

The future USNS Cherokee Nation (T-ATS 7) and USNS Saginaw Ojibwe Anishinabek (T-ATS 8) are the second in the class.

The original contract has the option for up to seven additional vessels to be constructed.