Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC) Code 360, Divers surged two Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) technicians (ND2 Gary Wyer and ND2 Brandon Zachry) with their ROV equipment to Pago Pago, American Samoa April 25th to establish a "proof of concept" for a new Battle Damage Repair function.
Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC) Code 360, Divers surged two Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) technicians (ND2 Gary Wyer and ND2 Brandon Zachry) with their ROV equipment to Pago Pago, American Samoa April 25th to establish a "proof of concept" for a new Battle Damage Repair function. During this assessment the ROV Divers assisted Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU ONE) Divers with a deep dive survey on a sunken WWII Navy Oiler (USS Chehahlis), utilizing a new SeaBotix Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).
During the survey, the underwater ROV video feed was broadcast live worldwide using an "Oceaneering" Satellite Uplink System which had been loaded into the SWRMC ROV system prior to departure from San Diego. This unique video feature enabled USN and USCG officials at COMPACFLT, COMSEVENTHFLT, USCG Command Pacific, SWRMC, San Diego, NAVSEA 00C, Washington, DC, and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit ONE (MDSU-ONE) to review the ROV footage conducted on USS Chehahlis in real time.
SWRMC divers had traveled over 5000 miles to get to Pago-Pago, America Samoa which is the only U.S territory in the southern hemisphere. American Samoa is comprised of four small islands and is in close proximity to the International Dateline. The local temperature is a constant 90 degrees during the day and 80 degrees at night with 90% humidity around the clock.
The Ex-USS Chehahlis was a Navy Tanker that sank in the Pago-Pago harbor in 1949 following a fuel explosion at the island's only refueling pier. The ship initially came to rest in 30 feet of water, but gradually drifted down the steep slope of the harbor bottom to its final resting place in 160 feet of water.
This unique ROV operation established the rapid response ability of the SWRMC Divers ROV surge team. The ability to mobilize the ROV with two divers to a remote site and transmit a live underwater video feed with the Oceaneering Uplink System took a total travel and setup time of 12 hours from the time divers left SWRMC until they deployed the ROV over the side to the USS Chehahlis.
Once the ROV was deployed onto the wreck, a quick phone call was made to Mr. Rick Armstrong (Department Head Code 360 Divers) at SWRMC San Diego to activate the uplink system and the dive team was broadcasting a live video feed to numerous USN/USCG Commands worldwide. The cost savings to the Fleet by utilizing this unique ROV system instead of flying a full Navy dive team of 10 to 15 persons and hundreds of pounds of dive equipment saved time and thousands of dollars of expenses. The ROV system allows Fleet Commanders and their maintenance team engineers the capability to assess hull and structural damage in order to make critical repair decisions in hours instead of days. It also permits them to communicate their intentions immediately to various Fleet counterparts.
In addition, the SWRMC ROV dive team assisted MDSU ONE salvage divers, lead by CWO4 Chris Lehner and Master Diver Scott Valentine, by recording over 20 hours of critical underwater footage of the USS Chehahlis diving operation including a survey of the wreck's keel, the condition of the ships aft wheel house, and the structural integrity of the main cargo holds. They were also able to analyze the hull plating to ascertain whether the vessel could be successfully "hot tapped" – a waterborne method of safely removing oil from the ship's fuel tanks into barges moored on the surface, avoiding future pollution and contamination of one of the world's most beautiful natural harbors.
The SWRMC ROV team performed successfully and received accolades from both the USCG and MDSU ONE for their outstanding assistance and service. Through the incorporation of this new unique underwater inspection technology, Southwest Regional Maintenance Center divers have again demonstrated their ability to accomplish the SWRMC mission anywhere, anytime.
Written by: Gary Wyer