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May 2010

Salvor supports recovery of South Korean navy ship
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By Edward Baxter, SEALOGFE Public Affairs

USNS Salvor
Salvor rests at anchor in the Yellow Sea before starting another day of salvage operations with amphibious dock-landing ship USS Harpers Ferry and guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur April 11. A South Korean commercial, heavy-lift, 4,000-ton capacity crane, seen in the background, was used to recover the hull fragments, which spread over a four-mile debris field. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans

At the request of the Republic of Korea government, 16 civil service mariners assigned to Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor joined U.S. divers in support of South Korea's search, recovery and salvage of a South Korean navy ship, that sank March 26 in the Yellow Sea, leaving nearly half of its 104 crew members unaccounted for. The cause of the incident remains under investigation.

The 1,200-ton South Korean patrol vessel Cheonan broke into two large pieces about one mile off South Korea's Baengnyeong Island just south of the Northern Limit Line - a United Nations-mandated, de-facto maritime boundary dividing South and North Korea. Fifty-eight of Cheonan's crew members were rescued by Republic of Korea rescue teams from the bow of the ship as it started sinking.

Sixteen sailors from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One, based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; a six-person team from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five, based out of Sasebo, Japan; and nearly 20 divers from Republic of Korea's Sea Salvage and Rescue Unit were embarked on Salvor to support Republic of Korea dive operations.

"Everyone aboard Salvor fully understood the significance and importance of this operation," said Salvor's civil service master, Capt. William Wiggins. Salvor, guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh and guided-missile destroyers USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Lassen arrived on scene March 27, joining an armada of 15 South Korean navy ships. The U.S. ships were operating nearby, having just completed Korean peninsula defense Exercise Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a bilateral, at-sea exercise with the Republic of Korea navy. Amphibious dock-landing ship USS Harpers Ferry, which served as the command and control ship for U.S. support of the search, recovery and salvage operation, arrived on scene April 2.

Dive tenders recover divers
Dive tenders recover Jong Suk Kang, a diver assigned to the Republic of Korea Sea Salvage and Rescue Unit, and Navy Lt. Matthew Lindsey, diving officer and company commander of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, aboard Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor during a joint dive April 9 in the Yellow Sea. U.S. and South Korean divers embarked on Salvor to conduct salvage and recovery operations after South Korean navy patrol boat Cheonan sank in the Yellow Sea near the western sea border with North Korea. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Byron C. Linder

Cheonan's bow was located in about 66 feet of water, while the stern was located in 430 feet of water. Smaller pieces of wreckage were moved by strong underwater currents and were scattered throughout a four-mile debris field.

On April 7, U.S. and Republic of Korea divers went to work conducting side-scan sonar operations from a rigid-hull inflatable boat and performed surface-supplied dives at nine designated sites in the debris field. Salvor's civil service mariners were involved in launching, recovering and operating the embarked RHIBs. Salvor remained on-site throughout the operation to assist wherever needed.

"We found out that the current was rougher than we expected, but we were well prepared," said Navy Diver 1st Class Quentin Felderman, assistant lead petty officer for MDSU-1.

Republic of Korea navy Chief Jong Suk Kang was grateful for the opportunity to work with MDSU-1. "I have done many dives, but I have worked with U.S. divers only once before. I am glad to have them help with our diving operations."

Salvor's civil service mariners conducted ship-to-ship cargo operations with a landing craft unit deployed from Harpers Ferry to ensure that Salvor had enough provisions to support the additional persons on board for the mission.

"Meal hours were extended so everyone on board had adequate time to get a hot meal," Wiggins said.

The South Korean navy brought in a commercial, heavy-lift 4,000-ton capacity crane to lift large pieces of the wreckage to the surface.

Salvor is one of four rescue and salvage ships operated by MSC to render assistance to disabled ships and provide towing, salvage, diving, firefighting and heavy lift capabilities to the fleet. As April drew to a close, the ship continued to act as U.S. 7th fleet's rescue and salvage ship while permanently-assigned MSC rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard underwent repairs in the Philippines. Safeguard's work is expected to be completed in early May.

MC2 Byron C. Linder, Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Japan, contributed to this story.