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USS Safeguard recovers sunken AAV off Okinawa coast.

The U.S. Navy's only forward deployed salvage and rescue asset, USS Safeguard (ARS 50), recently recovered a sunken amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) off the coast of Okinawa.

The Marine AAV, an armored landing vehicle capable of carrying troops from ship to shore, sank while being towed following a training exercise in April. The vehicle was located in June by USS Guardian (MCM 5) and technicians from Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5.

Safeguard, which operates out of Sasebo, Japan, arrived in White Beach, Okinawa, late this summer to begin the complex rigging required to recover the 26-ton vehicle.

Safeguard's crew worked through both summer heat and several thunderstorms to ready the ship for the recovery. They rigged two mooring legs on the ship's fantail, consisting of anchors, chain and heavy cable attached to two buoys. The legs would help hold the ship steady, as it reclaimed the AAV from beneath more than 170 feet of water.

The recovery effort commenced 26 miles off the coast of Oura Wan, Okinawa. The ship deployed her mooring legs in a precision anchoring evolution less than 1,200 yards from shoal water. Shoal water is an area made shallow by a sandbank or sandbar. Once the mooring legs were set, the crew began securing them to the ship to position it directly above the sunken AAV.

Divers from Safeguard were able to see the AAV as they descended past 100 feet. They completed four dives that day, including deepwater dives to survey the vehicle, attach a rigging harness, and remove a rear hatch to allow the seawater to drain out as the AAV was hoisted to the surface.

Early the next morning, the divers again entered the water to check the rigging harness and ensure the $2 million craft would not be damaged during the lift. The entire crew then pitched in, as Safeguard's heavy hydraulic cable pullers labored to slowly lift the heavy craft unto the deck.

Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Hans Jacobs led the deck and rigging crew, as they safely lifted the AAV from the ocean and onto the ship's fantail.

"Lifting a heavy object that is swinging because of the sea state, with very little deck space, and with multiple lines under power to steady the AAV, made it very dangerous," Jacobs said. "We had to be precise, working together to set the AAV on deck without damaging it, the ship or our personnel."

With the AAV securely on deck, Safeguard Sailors recovered the two mooring legs and proceeded back to White Beach to offload the AAV.

Safeguard's Commanding Officer, LCDR Marvin E. Thompson, said he was "awestruck" at how well his crew worked together. "We are a tight crew who pulls together to get any mission accomplished," he said. "This recovery operation is an example of the persistence and patience the crew maintains in getting the mission completed safely and efficiently. I could not be more proud of Safeguard."

The commanding officer of the unit that owns the sunken AAV shared Thompson's praise. "[The recovery was] an excellent, flawless job," said Marine Corps Capt. Christopher Hobson, commanding officer of the Combat Assault Battalion at Camp Schwab, Okinawa. "I greatly appreciate the assistance in getting this job done. All the divers and crew did a great job."

Story by QM2 Brittney Minegar, who is assigned to the public affairs office, USS Safeguard (ARS 50)
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Title Annotation:Around the Fleet
Author:Minegar, Brittney
Publication:All Hands
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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