PACIFIC OCEAN (April 2, 2011) — Sailors embarked aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), pilot a landing craft toward the well-deck after the ship transferred heavy equipment to USS Essex (LHD 2). Tortuga is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting Operation Tomodachi as directed. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Josh Huebner)

USS BLUE RIDGE, At Sea (Apr. 2, 2011) - Seventh Fleet forces continue support of Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) in Operation Tomodachi. Today’s focus of effort continues to be the search for human remains off the coast of Tohoku and clean up and clearance operations on the island of Oshima.

Seventh Fleet ships, helicopters and aircraft are searching over 2,000 square miles of ocean in a concerted effort to find victims of the March 11 tsunami. USS Cowpens (CG 63), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS Curtis D. Wilbur (DDG 54) are searching for remains in specific zones off the north east coast of Honshu, with their helicopters, additional support helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and one P-3 Orion aircraft providing aerial reconnaissance support.

Additional aerial reconnaissance and search sorties are also scheduled for tomorrow. The Japan Self Defense Force requested U.S. assistance due to the vast size of the search area. Locations of remains will be marked and that data sent to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force for retrieval and honorable interment of the victims.

187 Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) supporting Japan Ground Self Defense Forces began Operation “Field Day,” a clearing and clean up mission on the remote island of Oshima off the coast of Kessennuma. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Farnum, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) Commander, met with local Oshima officials and developed a plan for the overall clean up efforts over the coming days. The first location slated for clean up is Uranohama harbor, the primary ferry harbor for Oshima island, to allow ferry services to begin. Also, water testing processes and specific locations to be tested were identified to determine the safety of island drinking water. Cleaning and debris clearance has also begun at Oshimatake Junior High School in preparation to begin the new school year. USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and Underwater Construction Team 2 are also enroute to Oshima to assist in port clearance operations. The island, which is dependent upon ferry service from the mainland, has been largely isolated since March 11 when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore.

U.S. Navy barges containing 500,000 gallons of fresh water are moored at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, adding this resource to the fresh water cooling efforts. Japanese authorities will use the fresh water to replace salt water currently in some of the reactors.

USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) were released from Operation Tomodachi today and will proceed with other tasking.

Currently 14 ships, 130 aircraft and 13,893 personnel are actively engaged in operation Tomodachi. Those ships include USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), USS Cowpens (CG 63), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4), USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USNS Mathew Perry (T-AKE 9)and USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204).

Since Operation Tomodachi started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 260 tons of relief supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake in support of Japan Self Defense Force efforts. To date, 148 aerial reconnaissance and search sorties have been conducted with more planned in the coming days.

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