Honoring USNS Bowditch’s mariners

The following blog was written by Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commander, Military Sealift Command. Caring about people is a high priority in MSC, both afloat and ashore. Shannon talks about a rescue at sea and the service to our nation offered by our veterans, past and present.

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, the Philippines, during Operation Damayan in November 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Diane Meadows)

On Jan. 18, in steadily deteriorating weather conditions with winds in excess of 25 knots and high seas, the master and crew of our oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch worked its way slowly closer to the turbulent waters over the shallow Tubahata Reef in the Philippines. Seventy-nine Navy crew members awaited rescue from their mine countermeasures ship, USS Guardian, which had grounded on the reef, its fiberglass hull slowly being ground to pieces. With its dynamic positioning system, Bowditch was able to hold exact position to put boats over the side.

Within three hours, all of the evacuated ships’ personnel were safely out of their life rafts. Forty-five of the 79 evacuated crew members were housed aboard Bowditch where MSC crew members provided food, hot showers and dry clothing. Our Bowditch crew then brought the life rafts on deck, insuring all was secure. Over the next several days, Bowditch and its hydrographic survey launches continued to survey the grounding site, as well as other reefs and shoal areas in the vicinity, enabling safe placement of salvage ships and crane anchors. Bowditch also hosted salvage officials and diving salvage crews before being released to original tasking on Jan. 29.

For the excellent seamanship displayed by Bowditch’s master and crew, they received the United Seamen’s Service Admiral of the Ocean Sea mariner’s plaque at a ceremony in New York City. We are extremely proud of our Bowditch mariners. And I know they are not alone. I believe that every one of our ships embodies that same spirit of seamanship and willingness to help others in peril. It is part of who and what we are. Oceans unite humanity. As always, it’s my privilege to serve alongside you.

Our Bowditch mariners serve as a reminder of all who serve our aation, especially as we’ve just celebrated Veterans Day in November. We honor all those who serve and have served, women and men who volunteered to go in harm’s way because they were true patriots and knew that it was the right thing to do. As we recognize the exploits of the past, we also realize that there are heroes among us today. We salute them all.

Finally, as we approach the holiday season, be ‘safety aware,’ at work and at home. Watch out for each other and stay safe!

T. K. Shannon
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command

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