Mobile Diving And Salvage Unit ConductsTraining

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Mobile Diving And Salvage Unit ConductsTraining

Solomons, MD - 9/19/2012

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By Mike Wilson

The utilitarian yet graceful lines of a Fleet Ocean Tug lay at anchor on the Patuxent River off the Solomon’s Recreation Center last week while divers from the Navy’s Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two conducted training.

United States Naval Ship Apache (T-ATF 172) is the last of the Powhatan-class fleet ocean tug and was built by the Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette,WI and delivered to the Military Sealift Command (MSC) July 23, 1981. The ship is 226 feet long with a beam of 42 feet. She displaces 2,269 tons and has a cruising speed of 13 knots. The Fleet Ocean Tugs use the same engines that power railroad locomotives; however they are modified for marine use. In this case, they have deeper oil pans and are salt water cooled.

The USNS Apache and her crew of sixteen civil service mariners (CIVMARS) are part of the MSC’s Combat Logistics Force that operate in direct support of U.S. Navy fleets around the world. The licensed CIVMARS often graduate from one of seven U.S. colleges, called merchant marine academies, where they obtain a bachelor's degree and their merchant mariner licenses when they pass a Coast Guard test. According to Apache civil service master Capt. John Pritchett, mariners sailing in the unlicensed ratings often train at schools like the local Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point.

The seven U.S. merchant marine academies colleges are located in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas, California and the Great Lakes.

The Apache is one of four Fleet Ocean Tugs operated by the Military Sealift Command. Her sisters are USNS Navajo, USNS Sioux, and USNS Catawba.

These tugs are used to tow ships, barges and targets for gunnery exercises. They also conduct search and rescue missions, aid in the clean up of oil spills and ocean accidents, and provide firefighting assistance. They are also used in salvage, diving and mine recovery work, and debeach ships.

“Apache is capable of towing up 72 tons, which means it’s capable of towing just about anything in the Navy, from aircraft carriers to submarines,” noted civil service master Capt. John Pritchett.

Before arriving in Southern Maryland, The Apache towed the former USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) to the Panama Canal where the USNS Sioux continued the tow to Washington State where the submarine will be scrapped. The Apache then towed the former USS Daniel Webster (SSBN 626) to Groton, CT where she will be a Moored Training Unit (MTU) for the submarine school.

The Apache visits Southern Maryland several times a year to support the Little Creek, VA-based Navy divers. CWO2 Johnelisha Andrews stated the area off the Solomon’s Recreation Center “provides the ideal training area because the water is sheltered from the effects of the weather and has the perfect 110 foot deep hole for us to dive.” CWO2 Andrews further added that “two sailors were being evaluated before heading for the Master Divers School in Florida.” The divers were being tested with many different scenarios including diver casualties. For example, one scenario was designed to see how the team reacted to a diver who developed an embolism because he didn’t decompress properly.

In addition to their own decompression chamber, the dive team had other equipment aboard the Apache that might be used in a typical mission. For instance, oxygen and mixed gas breathing gear.

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) operates approximately 110 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that support U.S. Navy operations. MSC refuels Navy ships at sea, conduct special operations, and move military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.

MSC is the single U.S. Government agency responsible for the Department of Defense ocean transportation.

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