PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- The mine countermeasures ship USS Defender (MCM 2), working in concert with USS Gladiator (MCM 11), USS Scout (MCM 8), USS Falcon (MHC 59) and Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15, completed a survey of 938 nautical miles along the coast of Louisiana since beginning operations Sept. 10 in wake of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Defender arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola Sept. 13 to load supplies and complete maintenance before continuing its mission.
While mine countermeasures ships traditionally use sonar and various conventional sweeping measures to locate explosives, these tools are now being used to assist in the survey of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), a tanker offloading and temporary storage facility for crude oil transported on some of the largest tankers in the world.
LOOP handles 13 percent of the nation's foreign oil and connects by pipeline to 35 percent of the U.S. refining capability.
"For the relief efforts we are looking across the bottom of safety fairways and looking at positions where oil platforms used to be," said Ensign Steve Hickman, auxiliary officer on board Defender. "This area is essential for the offloading and storage of crude oil."
U.S. Coast Guard District 8 provided Defender and its accompanying ships with a list of priorities for their search. Among these was a list of nearly 50 oil platforms, according to Lt. Cmdr. Ty Britt, Defender's commanding officer.
The intent of the platforms survey was to determine the environmental impact of any leaks.
"The first thing we did after arriving on station was to survey the platforms," Britt said. "We found several ships that are still leaking oil, so it became a priority to identify them and get them capped off."
Once the search of the designated oil platforms was complete, Defender began searching the transit lanes along the Gulf Coast, which included clearing water to a depth of 65 feet. In the transit lanes, the ships were searching for anything that could pose a hazard to shipping lines, such as sunken boats, buses and houses that may have shifted during the storm surge.
Once the mine countermeasures ships have completed the nearly 2,900 nautical miles assigned, their efforts will still take some time to be noticed.
"There's nothing there to support the ships anymore," Britt explained. "There is no infrastructure for these guys, so we're looking ahead. Once they get the water pumped out of new Orleans, and the piers restored in Pascagoula, (Miss.) Biloxi, (Miss.) and Mobile (Ala.), and they are ready to support those services, we can ensure the lines are clear and the ships can get in there safely."
For the latest Navy news on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/hurricane/.