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New Navy combat ship to arrive in Duluth Sunday

A Hibbing native will be in command of the U.S. Navy's new $531 million combat ship when it arrives in the Twin Ports this weekend. Cmdr. Don Gabrielson, Hibbing High School Class of 1985 and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, leads the 75-per...

A Hibbing native will be in command of the U.S. Navy's new $531 million combat ship when it arrives in the Twin Ports this weekend. Cmdr. Don Gabrielson, Hibbing High School Class of 1985 and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, leads the 75-person crew that is bringing the Freedom, a yet-to-be-commissioned vessel, across Lake Superior.

The 378-foot ship left Marinette, Wis., Friday morning and is expected to pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge about 1 p.m. Sunday. It will moor behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

The Freedom's voyage to Duluth will be its first to a port outside of Marinette, where it was built by Marinette Marine and began sea trials July 28.

"This is very unique," said Ken Newhams, publisher of the Duluth Shipping News. "You don't see this very often."

Newhams estimates the Freedom as the third Navy vessel to reach the Twin Ports in his 13 years at the publication. The USS Samuel E. Morison was in Duluth on July 24, 1998, and the USS Clark arrived on Aug. 6, 1999.

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The new ship is scheduled to remain in Duluth until Thursday, Oct. 30, and will then head to Milwaukee, where it is slated for a Nov. 8 commissioning. At that time, it will become the USS Freedom and will begin the trip through the St. Lawrence Seaway toward its new home port: Little Creek, Virginia.

No public tours of the vessel will be offered during its visit to Duluth. Harborside Drive, behind the DECC, will be closed to motor traffic but not pedestrians, enabling the curious to view the ship from shore.

The Freedom is a littoral combat ship, meaning that it was designed primarily for coastal duties. Although the fully loaded vessel has a displacement of about 3,000 metric tons, it drafts just 13-1/2 feet of water.

With a design speed of 40-plus knots, the Freedom can get around. During trials, it has hit speeds as high as 43.5 knots. That's north of 50 mph.

The Freedom boasts a cruise range of 3,500 nautical miles.

The ship can accommodate a variety of weapon systems and is suitable for missions that include mine service, anti-submarine warfare, surface attack and humanitarian assistance. The Freedom also is equipped with a helicopter flight deck and a hangar.

Although money has yet to be approved, plans have been laid for Marinette Marine to build a second littoral combat ship next year.

Lt. Ron Flesvig said the last time a U.S. Navy ship called on the Twin Ports was in 1999, when a minesweeper called the Defender visited.

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