USNS Grapple: A Platform for Recovery

During July 2012, a recovery team comprised of civilian mariners aboard USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53), divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) specialists conducted a joint recovery operation at an underwater site in Canada. During the month long operation, team members searched the coast for five Americans lost when a PBY-5A aircraft crashed in November 1942 in the Mingan Channel off Longue-Pointe-Mingan, Quebec.

The downed aircraft, crew and passengers were assigned to the Army Transport Command, North Atlantic Division during World War II. It operated from land and sea and was used to transport troops and equipment to the airfield in Quebec, where it was attempting to take-off during bad weather when it crashed.

The site was initially discovered in May 2009 during a Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Service survey. In August 2009, JPAC deployed an investigation team to the site, positively correlating the wreckage to a known U.S. aircraft crash site and unresolved World War II losses.

In the following blog excerpt, Captain Jose Delfaus , Master of USNS Grapple and a civil service mariner

LONGUE POINTE, QUEBEC, Canada (July 20, 2012) - Debris recovered by personnel assigned to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, and the USNS Grapple (T-ARS 53), during an underwater recovery operation off the coast of Longue Pointe. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducts global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts in order to support the Department of Defense's personnel accounting efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey, U.S. Navy)

with MSC since 2000, reflects on his experience during this JPAC mission.

I have been involved in a variety of missions during my career with MSC but this is my first JPAC mission – it’s a great learning opportunity to prepare for future missions of a similar nature aboard our Rescue and Salvage ships. It’s unique because of the environmental sensitivities of the community, and because family members are involved. The local community is very connected to the wreck site and the feelings of pride and preservation run deep. We had the opportunity to spend time ashore during a community event over the weekend – it’s a small and remote coastal town and some of the locals were here when the plane went down. They are looking for closure, and so are the family members of the pilots and crew.

I have enjoyed a long career with MSC, specifically aboard the Rescue and Salvage Ships, and missions like JPAC underscore the value and capability our command provides for national defense. It’s an opportunity to highlight the ship, and the hard work our CIVMARs are doing to support our Navy and DOD. It’s also an opportunity to promote the Navy in a joint mission – we are the flagship vessel of the mission and our ship is the focal point for the local community when they look off the coast. It’s an exciting mission for a lot of reasons, and it’s important for the family members of the pilots and crew who are looking for closure more than anything else.

USNS Grapple is a Rescue and Salvage vessel, designed explicitly for missions like this one. We bring the platform with all the capability – equipment, chambers, supply units, etc. – and we operate the vessel in remote regions of the world so the divers can execute their mission without additional support. These ships are built to support divers working in remote regions – allowing them to accomplish a mission or execute an operation in a timely, efficient manner, and without outside assistance. For that reason, USNS Grapple is uniquely designed to support the JPAC mission here in the Mingan Channel, off Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan in Quebec Province.

This particular mission is important to MSC because it demonstrates the unique capabilities that MSC ships provide our Navy and it showcases the wide-range of support we provide to larger DOD missions. It’s a positive example of our Navy working alongside partner nations, such as Canada. And most importantly, it’s an example of our civilian mariners working alongside our Navy Sailors to support our nation’s interests.

As the ship’s Master, my role is to make sure the ship is operated in a safe manner and that all personnel and equipment onboard are safe. Along with the mission leader, and the leader of the diving unit, our top priority is to ensure the mission is safely conducted and successfully executed. We are one team, one fight and together, we deliver.

For more information, and to read the original JPAC press release.

About jmarconi