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USNS Grapple Civil Service Mariners & Navy Divers Contribute to Africa Partnership Station

Posted to Subsea (by on December 16, 2009

Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53) arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, Nov. 18, beginning a nearly two-month long international outreach and maritime security mission.

The mission supports Africa Partnership Station, or APS, a U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa initiative designed to enhance the continent's maritime security through partnership and collaboration. Grapple is specifically deployed as part of APS East, which encompasses Africa's eastern and southern regions.

During Grapple's mission, the ship's crew, including 26 civil service mariners, or CIVMARs, and five Navy sailors, are supporting 12 embarked Navy divers who are part of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 out of Little Creek, Virginia. The divers are sharing their diving and salvage expertise with their counterparts from partner country defense forces.

Grapple is slated to visit four cities in as many countries along the East African coast. The mission's first stop was in Kenya Nov. 18 to Dec. 5. Grapple then continued to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, arriving Dec. 7. The ship is also scheduled to visit Djibouti and Seychelles before completing the mission in early January. 

Grapple is one of MSC's four rescue and salvage ships. Typically these ships, their crews and – in the case of salvage operations – embarked Navy divers operate at sea to recover objects from the ocean floor, towing stranded vessels and providing firefighting assistance.

For this mission, however, Grapple's crew and embarked divers are traveling from port to port, working both ashore and at sea to conduct dive training, exercises and operations with host-country defense forces. The goal of Grapple's current mission is to improve maritime-security collaboration and increase the rescue and salvage capabilities of all participants. Collaboration of this kind is especially important to ensure preparedness for real-world rescue and salvage operations – like recovering downed aircraft and dealing with other rescue and salvage missions in international waters.

At each mission stop on its African mission, Grapple's divers are conducting classroom and hands-on training and information-sharing sessions with their host nation counterparts. Topics include diving safety and medicine; diving techniques for both surface-air-supplied dives and self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – dives; anti-terrorism and force-protection diving procedures; recompression-chamber operations and dive-equipment maintenance.

Outside of the classroom, Grapple's CIVMARs play an important role in mission success. The seasoned maritime professionals operate and navigate the ship and provide food, lodging and other support services for the embarked Navy divers. In addition, the CIVMARs connect the divers with their dive sites by providing small boat support, operating a 35-foot workboat used to transport the divers' salvage gear and providing maintenance, launch and operating support for the rigid-hull inflatable boat, or RHIB, that transports to divers to their operation sites.

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