SUBIC BAY, Philippines - Military Sealift Command (MSC) civil service-crewed rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) departed Subic Bay, Philippines, Oct. 20 wrapping up a dive exercise with the Philippine navy as part of the 16th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise.

CARAT is designed to strengthen regional military-to-military alliances through bilateral training and a wide-range of community relations activities.

Coordinated by commander, Task Force 73, long-standing participants in CARAT include navies from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States. New countries joining CARAT in 2010 include Cambodia and Bangladesh.

"CARAT's mission is essentially two-fold," said Safeguard's civil service master Capt. James Driver. "While we coordinate with foreign militaries and share information and ideas, we also help people who need it the most."

Driver, and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One officer-in-charge Navy Lt. Jon Corkey, hosted 15 divers from the Philippine navy aboard Safeguard during a professional exchange visit Oct. 5-12.

Filipino divers toured the ship and conducted classroom training Oct. 5-7, discussing Safeguard's mission and capabilities, dive medicine and hyperbaric chamber recompression therapy. Safeguard carries a hyperbaric chamber to treat decompression sickness if necessary after deep-water dives.

U.S. and Filipino divers went into the water Oct. 7-12. They conducted ocean-bottom training dives using the KM-37 diving helmet, where air is supplied to the diver through an umbilical cord from the surface. Divers then traveled to nearby Sangley Point where they conducted scuba dives while surveying the hull of the partially-beached World War II-era tank landing ship BRP Kalinga Apayao, which was part of the U.S. fleet as USS Garrett County before transferring to the Philippine navy in 1973. Divers used hand-held side-scan sonar devices to survey the ship and deployed the MDSU's remotely operated vehicle to capture visual imagery of the vessel.

During a community outreach program ashore, civil service mariners and MDSU One divers painted passageways at the Olongapo city high school Oct. 16. The group also donated about $350 in funds collected from the ship's crew for ongoing renovation projects at the school, which has an enrollment of 7,500 students.

Safeguard departed to Cambodia where the ship will conduct a professional exchange visit with Cambodia's navy during the final phase of CARAT scheduled to end Oct. 31.

"CARAT is designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. and participating nations," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Derek Peterson, U.S. 7th Fleet diving and salvage officer based in Singapore. "Safeguard's active duty and civil service crew members continue to, not only train in diving and salvage techniques, but spread good will throughout the local communities by engaging in community relations projects."

Safeguard is one of four rescue and salvage ships in MSC's inventory and is crewed by 26 civil service mariners and four Navy sailors who operate the communications suite. There are 17 Navy divers embarked from MDSU One who conduct diving and salvage missions.

MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, U.S. merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.