USNS Apache makes historic trip to St. Petersburg
By Gillian M. Brigham
When Military Sealift Command fleet ocean tug USNS Apache sailed into St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 9, she was not just making a diplomatic port call - she was making MSC history.
Apache's trek to St. Petersburg, the only such trip a U.S. Navy ship has made to any Russian Baltic fleet port this year, also marked what is believed to be the first time an MSC ship has visited the former communist nation in the command's more than fifty-year history.
Apache's visit continued the tradition begun in 2000 of having a U.S. Navy ship make an appearance in St. Petersburg every summer. This visit, however, was conducted without the pomp and protocol that typifies the rare occasion of a U.S. Navy ship being in port in Russia.
"The port visit was a great experience for us. Ours was a low-key, working visit," said Apache's master, Capt. Charles R. Rodriguez. "This was done intentionally in order to promote the concept that Russia and the United States can be 'working' partners. It is hoped that the interaction between the two navies can develop into a relationship wherein visits such as this one can be viewed as business as usual, much as it is with the navies of other countries we routinely visit."
Part of the work the ship was doing in St. Petersburg during her four-day stay included hosting representatives from the Russian Federation Navy's diving and salvage community, a branch of Russia's navy that was working with the U.S. Navy for the first time. Members of Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit Two, Detachment Charlie, on board Apache briefed the Russian divers on U.S. Navy dive and salvage operations, showcasing the ship's diving capabilities and equipment.
Apache's master also served in a diplomatic capacity while in St. Petersburg, meeting with a handful of Russian military officials.
"I paid a courtesy call to the commander of the Leningrad Naval Base. His chief of staff and a couple of other officers returned the call by coming to the ship for lunch and a tour of the ship," said Capt. Rodriguez.
"From a military diplomatic perspective, the Apache port visit was very successful for promoting the U.S. Navy," said Cmdr. William Hamblet, USN, Naval Attach', U.S. Defense Attach' Office Moscow. "Military Sealift Command and the MDSU Two team on board Apache demonstrated the highest level of military professionalism and diplomatic skill."