Master Diver James Ohalek removes pieces of the pilothouse during dismantling of abandoned vessel F/V Heritage, Sept. 2. (U.S. Navy/MCCS Brandon Raile)

ADAK, Alaska - Navy divers assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 recently completed removal of the abandoned fishing vessel (F/V) Heritage from Adak's harbor in support of Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) 2019.

The vessel has been abandoned for over ten years and was blocking access to the small boat ramp that is the primary launch point for private and commercial fishing boats into Adak’s harbor. The Navy divers conducted surveys and inspections on the fishing vessel in May to gain a full understanding of the job and what personnel and equipment would be required for the mission. The divers also interviewed the local community on their observations of the boat over time and determined F/V Heritage was beyond salvageable due to its structural state.

After confirming the fuel tanks on the vessel were empty and residual oil in the hydraulic lines and sumps was minimal, the divers scrapped the vessel by cutting it in place until smaller sections of the vessel could be pulled onto shore for disposal.

Lt. Cmdr. Leon Faison, an engineering duty officer assigned to MDSU-1 and the officer in charge of the salvage operation, said, “The Navy is thankful for the support from the city of Adak, including all of their business owners and government officials, who have graciously welcomed our Navy divers to the area and have expressed their appreciation for the MDSU-1 mission.”

The salvage and removal operation took approximately one week with divers beginning their work on Sept. 2 and completing the removal Sept. 8.

While this salvage and removal operation primarily focused on removing an underwater hazard for the community of Adak, it also provided realistic and relevant training for Navy divers in a cold-water environment to ensure they are ready to maintain physical access to ports and contribute to our Nation’s lethality whenever, wherever.

In addition to removing the sunken fishing vessel, the divers are scheduled to conduct surveys on two sunken tug boats in the main jetty of Sweeper Cove to include video, pictures and a summary salvage report to determine possible removal or salvage solutions. Following AECE 2019, the survey report will be used for future planning on the salvage of the two tugs.

MDSU-1 will also conduct a shore clean-up and regrade the boat ramp to ensure it is safe for local use. The U.S. Navy pays close attention to its environmental impacts and with any salvage operation, environmental concerns are one of the Navy’s top priorities.

Capt. Oscar Rojas, commodore, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 1, said removing the fishing vessel not only removed a navigational hazard abut also set conditions for future military training and operations in the region, allowing clearer access to the Bering Sea. He said, “I’m incredibly proud of the work our expeditionary Navy divers have conducted up here in Alaska, not only supporting the local community in Adak, but also training to clear underwater hazards and repair port facilities—a skill that will be absolutely crucial in a future fight for sea control.”

MDSU-1 provides combat ready, expeditionary, rapidly deployable mobile diving and salvage companies to conduct harbor clearance, salvage, underwater search and recovery, and underwater emergency repairs in any environment. MDSU-1, is one of only two such units in the U.S. Navy, and provides Fleet commanders with the ability to gain or maintain physical access to ports and begin the process of returning vessels damaged or stranded back to sea.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group One, the parent command of MDSU-1, man, trains and equips Navy EOD and expeditionary divers as the world’s premier combat force for eliminating explosive threats and underwater hazards so the Fleet and Nation can fight and win wherever, whenever and however it chooses.

Approximately 3,000 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel are participating in Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) 2019 in the Aleutian Islands and south-central Alaska, Sept. 1-28.

AECE is one in a series of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises in 2019 that prepares joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Pacific region. AECE will specifically test joint expeditionary force logistical transfer capabilities in the Arctic environment, including wet logistics over the shore, expeditionary mine countermeasures, mobile diving and salvage, offshore petroleum discharge system operations, and expeditionary infrastructure assessment program. Navy and Marine Corps participants will conduct operational and tactical actions to validate the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concepts.