December 19th 2019

Civil Service mariners and Navy divers assisted a passenger ship that had run aground in a storm off the coast of Chuuk, Micronesia.

USNS SALVOR, one of only two rescue and salvage vessels in the Military Sealift Command fleet and the only ship of its kind in the Far East, was in Weno Harbor when distress calls went out from a charter vessel on Dec. 1.

The SS THORFINN, a live-aboard dive boat, had run aground on a reef in Chuuk Lagoon between the Fefan and Dublon islands.

Under authorization from Commander Task Force 73, SALVOR, which was riding out the storm pier side, proceeded to render assistance.

When the MSC ship dropped anchor approximately two nautical miles from where the THORFINN lay aground, winds were from the northwest at 35 knots and seas were in excess of six feet.

After SALVOR’s Master Pete Lenardson made the decision to wait until the storm abated before proceeding further, the CIVMAR crew launched the RHIB with five Navy divers and a fleet salvage officer on board.

They found the port-aft portion of THORFINN dug in, with rudders and propeller in the sand and anchors in the water.

There appeared to be no hull penetration or leaking fluids.

After assessing the situation with the fleet salvage officer, the master diver and the rest of SALVOR’s bridge team, Lenardson decided the MSC ship would remain at anchor through the night with a plan to reevaluate conditions in the morning.

The next day, the weather had calmed enough to allow the salvage ship to navigate between the islands of Fefan and Dublon.

The Japanese military maintained bases in the archipelago during World War II, so the waters in the area teem with shipwrecks and downed aircraft; there are also coral reefs, several of which are uncharted.

SALVOR’s RHIB and workboat were dispatched to reassess and survey the grounded vessel.

On board the RHIB were SALVOR’s First Officer Alexander Delevers with a chart, GPS and track lines developed by Navigator Patrick Fagan.

Delevers used the workboat’s fathometer to survey an identified channel for the salvage ship to reach the passenger vessel.

After attempting to pull it free with the workboat, they returned to SALVOR.

Using ship’s charts and real-time fathometer depth readings on the small boats to safely clear a narrow path, SALVOR was able to get within 900 feet of THORFINN, close enough to use a tow line.

Once the line was attached, and with a rising tide, the salvage ship and its CIVMAR crew needed only minimum power ahead to shift the passenger vessel loose.

At this point, the tow line was quickly transferred to the workboat, which was able to safely finish the tow while the bridge team aboard SALVOR—including Third Officer Michael Breaux and ABs Vu Tran and Henry Nguyen–maneuvered back through the same path the salvage vessel had followed in.

With assistance from the CIVMARs aboard the workboat, the four-person crew of SS THORFINN was able to re-anchor just outside Dublon Island.

“It was a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together as a team,” said Captain Robert Williams, commodore of Military Sealift Command Far East.

“Our civilian mariners and Navy divers were ready to respond when needed and worked seamlessly together to safely and professionally execute the rescue.”

The licensed deck officers aboard USNS SALVOR are represented by the MM&P Federal Employees Membership Group.