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CHINHAE, Republic of Korea - U.S. Navy and Republic of Korea (ROK) navy diving and salvage experts wrapped up two weeks of advanced training during Salvage Exercise (SALVEX) Korea 2015, March 14.
Building on thirty years of partnership since SALVEX Korea began in 1985, approximately 180 U.S. and ROK navy personnel conducted a series of advanced combined salvage operations, both in-port and at-sea. Sailors assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 embarked aboard the rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) sharpened skills with ROKN counterparts from Salvage Squadron (SALVORON) 55 embarked on their diving and salvage ship ROKS Pyongtaek (ATS 27).
Training focused on combined diving operations, heavy lift procedures, and for the first time this year, a two-day salvage operations conference to discuss bilateral certification procedures and coordination. For the capstone event, Salvor and Pyongtaek teamed up in a real-world salvage operation to conduct bow-lifts of a 30-ton fishing vessel on an underwater training range near Chinhae, Korea. This highly complex evolution highlighted the continued importance of diving and salvage interoperability between the U.S. and ROK navies.
"One of the great privileges of being forward deployed to the Western Pacific is the opportunity to work together with our friends and partners all across Asia," said Lt. Cmdr. William Sumsion, Commander Task Force 73 diving and salvage officer. "Exercises like SALVEX Korea and others throughout South and Southeast Asia are a valuable way for us to enhance theater security cooperation and maritime interoperability with regional navies."
The bow-lift continued an upward trend from SALVEX Korea 2014 in which U.S. Navy divers achieved an international first with their ROKN counterparts by conducting mixed-gas diving on a foreign vessel. Mixed-gas diving is among the highest-risk types of diving in the U.S. Navy.
Using a foreign system is rare even for a simple self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), let alone a complex set of valves and pipes like the mixed-gas system aboard Pyeongtaek. A waiver ultimately allowed U.S. Navy personnel to use a foreign navy dive system and chamber to conduct diving operations for SALVEX 2014, reflecting the high level of trust between the U.S. and ROK navies.
"It took quite extensive planning and cooperation with the Korean navy to dive with a mixed-gas system from a foreign navy," said Senior Chief Navy Diver (Master Diver) Phillip Strautman, CTF-73 master diver. "When we talked about it at the planning events, we wanted something both navies could benefit from and sharing our best techniques during the exercise made all of us better divers and salvors," said Strautman.
SALVEX Korea 2015 is part of Exercise Foal Eagle -- an umbrella of regularly-scheduled, annual exercises that are the culmination of many months of planning and based on realistic training scenarios. The naval portion of the Foal Eagle exercises take place in international waters around South Korea and features a full spectrum of maritime operations.
"Having this exercise and others similar to it in 7th Fleet will help ensure that Navy Expeditionary Combat Command units paired with USNS salvage assets are ready to respond to any future incidents," said Lt. John Kennedy, assigned to MDSU-1.
MDSU-1 provides combat ready, expeditionary, rapidly deployable mobile, diving and salvage capabilities to conduct harbor clearance, salvage, underwater search and recovery, and underwater emergency repairs in any environment.
CTF 73 is U.S. 7th Fleet's theater security cooperation agent for South and Southeast Asia.
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships at sea, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.