Safeguard salvages Filipino patrol boat
By Edward Baxter, SEALOGFE Public Affairs
Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard brought a partially submerged Filipino navy patrol boat to the surface on May 26, during a salvage mission, part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training 2009.
CARAT, a series of bilateral exercises held annually throughout Southeast Asia, takes place over a three-month period beginning in May. Since its inception in 1995, CARAT's overarching goal has been to enhance mutual cooperation and operational readiness between the six countries participating in the exercise, which include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the United States this year.
On May 18, Safeguard's crew of 18 civil service mariners joined Pearl Harbor-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One divers in the Philippines to raise and remove partially sunken Filipino coastal patrol boat BRP Tomas Batilo from the shallow waters of Bacoor Bay, where the boat sank six years ago during a typhoon.
"While the patrol craft did not present a direct danger to navigation for inbound or outbound ships, it did take up valuable space in the congested port," said MDSU One's officer in charge Navy Warrant Officer Troy Roat.
The 18 embarked U.S. Navy divers, 13 Filipino special operations group divers and four Navy Seabee divers spent 19 hours in the water preparing the ship to be refloated.
"The divers operated in difficult conditions," said Curtis Wiley, salvage project supervisor. "Waters were murky, with close to zero visibility. The bay lacks good water circulation and has local runoff from sewage and waste, which hamper the visibility and water quality."
From May 21-22, divers conducted a series of bilateral training exercises from the surface, including side-scan sonar operations and surface-supplied air diving. Next, divers entered the water to make several surveys of Batilo's hull. The Filipino navy moved a barge, which can be safely maneuvered close to wreckage with the required salvage equipment onboard, alongside Safeguard to serve as a mobile diving platform. Additionally, divers conducted a surface tour of a sister patrol craft to better understand Batilo's layout.
Safeguard's First Engineer Wayne Corcoran and Deck-Machinist Timothy Smith 'worked hard' to keep the 35- foot barge and Safeguard's rigid-hull, inflatable boat working in the debrisridden waters, said Safeguard's civil service master Capt. Ed Dickerson. 'Operating in polluted waters forced the crew to conduct frequent repairs to the engines, propellers and rudders,' he said.
On May 22, divers tested hydraulic pumps and attached steel patches to exterior holes in Batilo's hull and applied cement patches to holes in the interior to make the patrol boat water-tight.
When the patches were in place on May 25, divers turned on pumps to extract the water from inside. Batilo started to slowly rise to the surface the next day. Mooring lines were then attached.
"The hull was severely degraded, and we were concerned with the hull's integrity and overall seaworthiness of the vessel," said Roat. Fearing the vessel could sink if the operating crews towed it out of the harbor to open waters, Filipino and U.S. divers jointly decided to beach the wreckage. "The ship will be cut up and used for scrap," Roat said. The salvage operation concluded May 27.
"This is a great example of how the so-called impossible becomes possible," said Wiley. "We worked sideby- side with our Filipino counterparts to get the job done, and we all had a great time doing it."