SS Petersburg (T-AOT-9101) sits in a 12-degree list as it successfully deploys a single-anchor leg mooring (SALM) buoy, Sept. 15. (U.S. Navy/Sarah Burford)

SAN DIEGO - The Military Sealift Command (MSC) government owned tanker ship SS Petersburg (T-AOT-9101) that is participating in Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise 2019 off the coast of San Diego, Calif., successfully deployed a single-anchor leg mooring (SALM) buoy, Sept. 15, the first of this type of exercise conducted in Southern California.

To deploy the SALM, Petersburg first performed a twelve-degree list to its port side. Once the ship was in position, the 800-ton SALM traveled down two sets of rails, guided by hydraulics to control the descent to the water, a process that took over three hours. Once clear of the ship, Navy divers from Underwater Construction teams 1 and 2, and Seabees from Naval Amphibious Construction Battalion One, then worked to level the huge device by opening and closing a series of valves, allowing the SALM to take on water ballast, then moored it to Petersburg. Once stable and level, the SALM will then be sunk into 70 feet of water and connected to an offshore petroleum discharge system (OPDS) that can then deliver fuel or water, via hoses, to shore.

The OPDS allows fuel to be delivered to areas where conventional methods may not be a viable solution such as during a military operation or in the aftermath of a natural disaster where local infrastructure has been damaged or a beach is inaccessible by conventional methods.

According to Gary Huntsburger, an assistant port engineer with TOTE Maritime, while the OPDS can deliver fuel, in today’s world of humanitarian missions that follow super storms such as the recent Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, water can be a precious and welcome commodity in areas with severely damaged infrastructure.

“Systems like this can be used in a wide variety of applications, especially in transferring fresh water after a natural disaster,” said Huntsburger. “If you can get fresh water to people, like kids in a hospital, it means everything. Just being able to take a shower, at the end of a hard day of recovery work, can really life people’s spirits.”

During the SALM deployment Petersburg’s crew, along with members of the Military Sealift Command Pacific (MSCPAC) team worked in concert with Navy Seabees from Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One and UTC-1 and UTC-2. Working together across the commands required a huge amount of communication and understanding. Subject matter experts, such as Huntsburger, who was recalled from retirement due to his knowledge base, were on the team to oversee operations, and to try to foresee issues during this very rare evolution.

“We really try to anticipate things that can happen and deal with them, but you just don’t know what will happen until we’re there, doing the mission,” said Lt. j.g. Christopher Harrigan, UCT-2 officer-in-charge. “This system is pretty straight forward. There isn’t much that can go wrong, but what there is, is all in our protocols. That is why we follow the protocols so closely.”

“Coordinating all the personnel components, and making sure everyone know what we’re doing and what is coming next is really important to our success,” explained Capt. Kevin Sith, Petersburgh’s civilian master. “We deal with challenges as they come up, and together as a team, communicating and working with each other, not against each other.”

According to the Navy divers, training with the SALM has also been a factor in their success. In July, the teams conducted a training evolution where they worked with a SALM, however, the SALM was not deployed from a ship, prior to ballast, mooring and sinking.

Despite a few delays because of weather and mechanical issues, the SALM traveled down the rails and into the water smoothly.

“When you are moving something this large, you want to take it slow and easy,” said Sith. “We have been pretty lucky. We haven’t had any issues we couldn’t work through.”

With the launch of the SALM, the military teams will move into the transference of water to the shore station on the beach nearly two miles from the ship, near Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, Calif., followed by reloading the SALM onto Petersburg.

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. 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 and an offshore petroleum discharge system. Navy and Marine Corps participants will conduct operational and tactical actions to validate the Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concepts.