USNS Sioux Conducts Target Towing in Support of RIMPAC 2018

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -As the bi-annual maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018 continues off the coast of Hawaii, Military Sealift Command’s fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171) conducted tow operations, delivering targets for at-sea live fire exercises.

Over a seven-day period, that began July 10, Sioux will deliver two decommissioned Navy ships to the designated target area in preparation for sinking exercises (SINKEX); landing ship-tank Ex-Racine and the guided missile frigate Ex-McClusky.

Preparations for Sioux’s mission began months ago.  Things that are considered contaminants, that could compromise sea life or the ocean’s environment, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), transformers and capacitors, trash, floatable materials, mercury or fluorocarbon-containing materials and readily detachable solid PCB items were stripped from the ship leaving nothing more than a shell. Petroleum was also cleaned from tanks, piping and reservoirs.  After several inspections by the Navy Sea Systems Command Inactive Ships Office, the ships were fitted with towing gear and then put into “Zebra” conditions, where all the water tight doors and hatches were opened to allow water to rush in at the time of sinking.  All preparations are in line with guidelines set-up by the Environmental Protection Agency under a general permit the Navy holds pursuant to the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.  In addition, Capt. Harry Sprague, Sioux’s civil service master, worked with the local harbor pilots to ensure a safe course out of the Pearl Harbor channel.

“We really have to do our homework when it comes to doing tows like the ones we are doing at RIMPAC,” said Sprague.  “We worked closely with MSC tow and salvage experts to make sure everything was good and safe and sea worthy so we could get out of Pearl Harbor and to the delivery sight safely.”

Decomisssioned Navy landing ship-tank Ex-Racine follows behind Military Sealift Command fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux as it is towed to the SINKEX target site as part of MSC’s contiued support of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2018.

Sprague was part of the inspection team and helped prepare the tow ships while in port. The real challenges, he described, came as they began their journey to the delivery site.  Ex-Racine, the 522 foot LST was of considerable concern because the ship has been in port for nearly 30 years, the seaworthiness of the vessel was a consideration, as well as sea states during the transit time.  High seas could cause the tow to flood, causing the ship to become heavy, breaking the towline, or sinking.   While the end goal is to sink the ship, Sioux needed to ensure that didn’t happen until Ex-Racine was in the target area and the sink controlled and safe, he said.

“Ex-Racine was not like some of our regular tows, where we are moving an active ship from one place to another,” explained Sprague.  “With this one, our concern was what would happen once we started to move it; was it going to be seaworthy?  Would it take on too much water?  Would we be able to deliver it to a spot in the ocean where it may or may not sink when the time came?”

According to the Navy, each SINKEX area is required be at least 6,000 feet deep and at least 50 nautical miles from land. Surveys are conducted prior to the event to ensure humans and marine mammals are not in an area where they can be harmed.  With the RIMPAC 2018 targets, Sioux delivered them to an area 160 miles from Pearl Harbor.  Each trip took about 36 hours.  Once in the target zone, or “Box”, Sioux disengaged from the tow and moved out to a safe area, remaining onsite to ensure the tow ship didn’t drift out of the box.  If that had happened, Sioux would have been tasked to retrieve it and move it back into the proper area for the SINKEX.

“Tows like this can be very stressful, because there are so many eyes on us; watching us,” said Sprauge.  “Our ability to successfully get the tow where it needs to be, allows the Navy to do the training they need to do; training that one day could be used in a real world operation where our national defense is being tested.”

For the crew of Sioux, towing in nothing new.  In fact, it is part of their basic mission package, however, being a part of RIMPAC 2018, is a first for many of them.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for us,” said Sprague.  “We have a very specific and unique mission.  This is like a once in a lifetime type of event and we are all very excited to be a part of it.”

Sioux will remain in the RIMPAC area of operations throughout the exercise, providing tow support to all the countries involved in the event of an emergency.

Twenty-five nations, 46 surface ships, five submarines, 18 national land forces, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial RIMPAC exercise scheduled June 27 to Aug. 2.

This year’s exercise includes forces from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.

As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans. RIMPAC 2018 is the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971.

 

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