General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) has laid the keel for the future US Navy ship Harvey Milk (T-AO 206).

T-AO 206 is the second of six vessels in the US Navy’s John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler programme.

The ship is named after Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who served in the military.

The keel laying ceremony marks the start of a ship’s construction.

During the ceremony, the ship’s sponsors, Senator Dianne Feinstein and former naval officer Paula Neira, had their initials virtually welded into the keel plate.

Feinstein said: “I worked with Harvey, I know his dedication to human, civil and gay rights, and he was an exceptional figure.

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“I think it really is fitting and proper that this great ship be named after him.”

The USNS Harvey Milk is 746ft-long and will have a displacement of 49,000t. It will offer logistics support to the US Navy’s carrier strike groups around the globe.

Fleet oilers will serve as the backbone of the fuel delivery system of US Navy.

General Dynamics NASSCO president Dave Carver added: “It is a privilege to build a ship named after a true champion of equality and a commitment to those in need.

“General Dynamics NASSCO is honoured to build this ship that will bear the name USNS Harvey Milk.”

In December last year, NASSCO started construction on USNS Harvey Milk.

The keel of the first John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler, the future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), was laid at the General Dynamics shipyard in May.