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February 2013

Grapple Crest

Grappling in the deep
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MSC, Navy divers work "hand in hand" with partner nations

Rescue and salvage ships...there when you need them

By Kim Dixon, MSCEURAF Public Affairs

Military Sealift Command's rescue and salvage ships are a bit like insurance - operating quietly in the background until they, along with their embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit companies, are needed quickly on the scene for a mission, such as towing or debeaching a stranded ship or salvaging a vessel.

While these types of missions often make headlines, some of the most influential work by these ships is done during that background time, conducting theater security cooperation engagements with the U.S. Navy's allied and partner nations throughout the world.

In the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility, USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53) worked with three different countries from November through January, hosting bilateral diving exchanges that helped train for any future combined missions.

"A bilateral diving exchange allows us to work hand in hand with our host nations, such as Spain, Algeria and Morocco on this deployment," said Capt. Curtis Smith, Grapple's civil service master. "In the grand scheme of things, if an amphibious or subsurface event occurs that would require the use of multi-national support, we will have an understanding of each nation's techniques, assets and limitations with regard to a specific means of diving."

Grapple's crew and MDSU Company 2-4 worked closely with the host nations' divers on various types of diving techniques, such as ship, surface supplied, scuba and re-breather diving. Grapple's civil service mariner crew provided support to the training by operating the shipboard crane that lowers the dive stage, and assisting in developing and providing materials for mock training scenarios; one such contribution was creating a four-bolt flange that served as either something to fix or something to find.

The bilateral diving exchanges always begin with an initial assessment of each country's diving and salvage capabilities to provide a productive starting point. In Cartagena, Spain, Nov. 24 to 30, in Jijel, Algeria, Dec. 10-14, and in Al Hoceima, Morocco, Dec. 17-22, Navy divers hosted classroom training aboard Grapple. The training covered operational and emergency procedures for surface supplied diving using the Kirby Morgan 37 diving helmet, a bright yellow device that looks like a cross between an old-fashioned dive helmet and something worn by intergalactic explorers. Participants also discussed several scuba-related procedures including anti-terrorism force protection diving techniques and low visibility searching techniques.

After the classroom training in Spain, both countries' divers conducted familiarization dive training off Grapple using the surface supplied dive helmet and the diver's stage, lowering divers to a 35-foot depth. Successfully completing the familiarization dives, Grapple's CIVMAR crew members moored the ship in 160 feet of water where the 18 U.S. Navy dive team members and eight Spanish divers performed deep diving operations using surface supplied surface decompression dives. In a final scuba diving operation, divers teamed up to inspect a new wreck site 75 feet under water that the Spanish navy diver school intends to use for future training purposes.

Similarly, in Algeria - where a total of 20 Algerian military divers participated - one group of U.S. Navy divers conducted 35-foot depth surface supplied dives off Grapple with some of their Algerian diver counterparts while at the same time, pierside, another combined group performed search and ATFP dives using scuba equipment. This was the first bilateral diving operation from an American vessel in Algeria in 12 years.


Grapple and the MDSU team returned to Morocco from Jan. 9-24 for more extensive training with Moroccan divers, including advanced surface and underwater cutting and welding, light salvage operations training, hydraulic power unit and tools familiarization and emergency diving casualty response procedures.

Completing additional classroom instruction, Navy divers presented Moroccan divers with materials to build a work bench for the underwater hydraulic tools diving operations. Utilizing several cutting and welding techniques, the Moroccans made precision cuts on scrap steel and assembled the workbench.

During the underwater phase of the exchange, divers lowered the workbench into the water to a depth of 35 feet using the Interspiro DP1 Dive System, which can support up to two divers. Air for the system is supplied to the divers from the surface while the emergency air supply is worn on the divers' backs. Divers simulated preparing a ship's hull for the installation of a flange using hydraulic drills and grinders.

Next, dive teams conducted salvage training, working to raise two 55-gallon drums sunk in 35 feet of water. Moroccan divers raised the drums in two ways, removing water via pumps in the first, and by introducing air, which pushed the water out and refloated the second drum. Both dive teams again used the DP1 dive system to install non-collapsible vent hoses and suction hoses to one project for dewatering and installing air fittings and hoses for introducing air to the other.

Throughout diving engagements, Navy divers simulated emergency scenarios throughout the day to incorporate how diving casualties are handled. Emergency procedures included trauma scenarios for controlling bleeding while diving and treatment of divers suffering from decompression sickness. The scenarios particularly focused on integrating both dive teams into a cohesive unit that could provide care and reaction time for a stricken diver.

Gauging success

Success in these exchanges is measured by a slightly more intangible yardstick than traditional rescue or salvage operations.

"Success of a bilateral diving exchange is directly determined by what each military can take away from their interaction with each other," said Smith. "The exchange of diving knowledge between militaries ideally ends with each country taking away new or better ideas for better ways to perform safe diving operations, to include salvage operations, search operations and ATFP security operations. Additionally, each engagement between the Spanish, Algerian and American military forces during the AFRICOM deployment has provided a positive effect on foreign relations between each of the governments involved."