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SINGAPORE - Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) is deployed to Papua New Guinea’s New Britain island looking for missing U.S. aircraft from World War II.
Led by Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the Salvor-based team began conducting underwater surveys Nov. 12 of two pre-determined sites near Simpson Harbor using side scan sonar and remotely operated vehicles, and by conducting dive operations.
JPAC conducts global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted for Americans from past conflicts. Simpson Harbor was a major port used by the Japanese navy until it was captured by allied forces in September 1945. Approximately 74,000 U.S. service members remain unaccounted for from World War II with more than 1,590 missing near Papua New Guinea.
More than 50 people are deployed aboard the 255 foot Salvor for the monthlong mission. Personnel include civil service mariners who operate the ship, U.S. Navy divers from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One, and a team of unmanned underwater vehicle specialists from Coronado, Calif.-based Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One. Representatives from Papua New Guinea’s military and National Museum and Art Gallery are also embarked.
“Due to the amount of embarked mission-related riders, every bunk is accounted for,” said Salvor’s civil service master Capt. Bradley Smith.
The goal is to determine what kind of wreckage the aircraft are, whether they are indeed missing U.S. aircraft, and determine if there are any human remains in the wreckage. Based on those findings, the Salvor team will then assess whether to salvage the wreckage. Any human remains found will undergo thorough forensic examinations by JPAC before any notifications to next-of-kin are able to be made.
Salvor’s 26 civil service mariners are working around the clock to support divers throughout the mission, making sure shipboard equipment is in good working order before dive evolutions commence. Salvor’s engineering team ensures generators are running to supply power for the cranes and the capstan as well as power for the recompression chamber, lighting and communications. Salvor’s steward department is working long hours to feed additional personnel deployed aboard for the mission.
“The embarked dive team offers to help out in scullery duties when not actively engaged in dive and salvage operations,” said Smith. “The divers also offer their engine related ratings and skills to assist the engineering department and help out in certain areas of deck maintenance which fosters the one-team concept of MDSU divers and civil service mariners.”
MSC Ship Support Unit Guam is also supporting Salvor by facilitating ship husbandry contracts – ensuring Salvor gets all it needs while deployed to Papua New Guinea, including supplies and fuel.
The mission is expected to be completed in early December. USNS Salvor is one of MSC’s four rescue and salvage ships and is one of 15 ships in MSC’s Service Support Program.