NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 along with the crews of rescue and salvage ships USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53) and USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51) participated in a two-week de-beaching exercise that ended Nov. 26 from Anzio Beach at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.
The annual Salvage Training Exercise (SALVEX) provided a real-life training environment for the crews of Grapple and Grasp and MDSU 2 Sailors who practiced removing former USCG buoy tender Salvia from a beached position.
Chief Warrant Officer James Dertilis, assigned to MDSU 2, the liaison between the two ship's civil service masters and MDSU 2 operations, explained that the exercise was not as cut and dry as they anticipated.
"In the past, when MDSU would conduct this type of training, after the Salvia was beached we would have her out by the next day," said Dertilis.
This time however when the Salvia was beached during a high spring tide, an intervening low tide caused Salvia to rest broached between a sand bar and the water's edge. After several more days of bad weather including winds in excess of 45 knots, Salvia swung around 180 degrees, and the old World War II ship settled in the sand 30 feet farther up the beach than was intended.
By the time the winds subsided, more than 216 tons of force was calculated necessary to remove Salvia from the beach.
"A lot more of her was aground than Grapple could pull," said Dertilis. "That is why we requested help from Grasp as well."
With a Thanksgiving Day deadline bearing down on the crews, they wasted no time laying four legs of a salvage anchoring system known as "beach gear," which comprises a 6,000 pound salvage anchor, one shot of anchor chain, wire rope and buoys. The beach gear provided anchoring stability to the two rescue and salvage ships while they pulled the stranded vessel free.
"Before deploying beach gear, MDSU 2 divers surveyed the area seaward of the stranded vessel and placed buoys in locations calculated to drop the [beach gear] legs," said Capt. Douglas Casavant Jr., Grapple's, civil service master. "After the gear is deployed, the salvage ships positioned themselves to recover the wire ends of the beach gear legs."
After the wire rope was passed to the stranded Salvia from the rear of the Grapple and Grasp, hydraulic wire pullers pulled against the beach gear salvage anchors generating the required 216 tons of freeing force to release Salvia from the sand.
Finally, after sunrise Nov. 26, Salvia came loose from the sand, was taken in tow by Grasp and the training was essentially complete.
"This was one of the most challenging de-beaching training evolutions in my recent memory," said Casavant. "It fully tested the skills and abilities of all concerned."
Casavant went on to say, "We proved that the combination of Military Sea Lift Command and Navy divers can work together in challenging conditions and provide the U.S. Navy with a fully capable salvage platform."
Military Sealift Command's four rescue and salvage ships are crewed by civil service mariners as well as three Sailors who operate the communications equipment. When conducting salvage operations, these ships also carry up to two MDSUs.
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