USNS Bowditch continues survey operations near hard hit area of Philippines

The following blog about USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and its work supporting ongoing relief efforts as part of Operation Damayan is by Ed Baxter, Military Sealift Command Far East Public Affairs, and Jennifer Null, Naval Oceanographic Office.

A Hydrographic Survey Launch, or HSL, is deployed from USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) at San Pedro Bay near the hard hit city of Tacloban, the Philippines. (U.S. Navy photo by Diane Meadows)

A Hydrographic Survey Launch, or HSL, is deployed from USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) at San Pedro Bay near the hard hit city of Tacloban, Republic of the Philippines. (U.S. Navy photo by Diane Meadows)


The waters are calm now. Hard to imagine, just a few days ago, 160 mph-plus winds churned up huge waves as water surged ashore destroying hundreds of homes and killing thousands of people.

Operating aboard a Hydrographic Survey Launch, or HSL, deployed from oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch, oceanographers from the Naval Oceanographic Office and merchant mariners under contract to Military Sealift Command survey shallow waters close to the shoreline at San Pedro Bay near the city of Tacloban, Republic of the Philippines.

Two HSLs, 34-foot, seven-ton watercraft, which resemble a commercial yacht, are working to identify and clear hazards to navigation on the seabed. With a draft of just three feet, HSL’s are able to work close to the shoreline in very shallow waters. The vessels use sophisticated technology, including a multi-beam and a single-beam echo sounder, and side scan sonar to map the ocean floor.

The crew of Bowditch has been working long days since the ship arrived on station Nov. 13 – the first ship to arrive and part of a large U.S. task force operating in support of Operation Damayan, our U.S. Navy’s ongoing relief efforts here.

Bowditch went to work right away, conducting a multi-beam survey of the outer channel leading to San Pedro Bay, and surrounding areas, ensuring the path was clear for the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group to enter the area.

“We identified an unchartered shoal near the channel going into Tacloban,” said Dale Hare, Senior NAVOCEANO representative embarked aboard Bowditch.

Bowditch’s multi-beam contour mapping system and wide-angle side-scan sonar systems continuously collect data over a broad strip of ocean floor.           

Following a multi-beam survey of the area, NAVOCEANO oceanographers confirmed the passage was free of obstructions making it safe for USS George Washington (CVN 73) and its accompanying ships to navigate toward San Pedro Bay and begin providing disaster relief to Tacloban.  

Upon completing that survey Nov. 14, Bowditch returned to the original channel survey in San Pedro Bay. The next day, two HSLs were deployed from the mother ship. Bowditch’s HSLs are expected to continue survey operations for several days until embarked NAVOCEANO personnel are satisfied the harbor is safe for navigation.

As part of a cooperative survey with the Republic of the Philippines, Bowditch was performing an oceanographic survey near the island of Dinagat, Philippines, when the ship received the call from U.S. Pacific Fleet to head to Tacloban to support relief efforts.            

Bowditch has three Filipino liaison officers embarked.

The 328-foot Bowditch is operated by a crew of 24 civilian merchant mariners working for a private company under contract to MSC. Twelve NAVOCEANO oceanographers are embarked aboard the ship to conduct surveys. NAVOCEANO is based at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

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