BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (NNS) -- A team of Sailors and civilians deployed from the Naval Oceanographic Office in Stennis, Miss., to USS Benfold (DDG 65) to provide tsunami relief assistance at the request of the Indonesian government.
The oceanographic survey team is conducting safety of navigation surveys of the altered Indonesian coastlines affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami.
"The International Survey Team was tasked with providing safety of navigation surveys throughout the Indonesian region," said Lt. Cmdr. Todd Barnhill, officer in charge, International Survey Teams 1 and 2. "We arrived on Jan. 5th, 2005, and have conducted two harbor surveys so far, looking for large obstructions, to ensure the harbor is clear. We are doing this in the hope that our charts will make it safe for larger ships to come into port to help with the relief efforts."
The team uses single beam and side-scanning sonar similar to the technology found on U.S. Navy mine warfare ships to make images of the ocean floor and any debris that might obstruct safe navigation. In addition to the more visible land damage from the tsunami, changes in the ocean floor around the Indonesian coastline are a concern to mariners.
"There have been reports in the change of depths in the regions," said Barnhill. "We have hydrographic ships in the area conducting surveys to confirm these changes."
The survey team's tasking requires them to travel close to shore, revealing the level of damage the tsunami caused right before their very eyes.
"The tsunami wiped out tons of shoreline," said Forrest Noll, hydrographer, Naval Oceanographic Office. "It changed the landscape drastically. What used to be the high point of the beach is all underwater. One harbor has disappeared; you can't even tell it was there. Boats were on land, trash covered the sides of the river as high as three or four meters."
Benfold Sailors who manned the RHIBs (rigid hull inflatable boats) for the survey team took advantage of their unusual passengers to learn about hydrography and be a witness to the tsunami's destructive power.
"This was the first time I have done this type of mission," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Donald Weber, of Benfold. "It was interesting to me because of all of the different kinds of equipment we got to use. It was shocking to see how powerful the ocean could be to throw boats as big as I saw get thrown as far as they did."
For related news on Navy tsunami relief operations, visit the Focus on Tsunami Relief Operations page at www.navy.mil/local/tsunami.
For more news from around the fleet, visit the Navy NewsStand at www.news.navy.mil.