Navy divers remove 15 tons of rocks from Saipan channel
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By Haidee V. Eugenio
The U.S. Navy has so far removed some 15 tons of “dangers to navigation” like corals and rock formations from the Saipan channel, a project which the Saipan Chamber of Commerce says will allow more and bigger military ships to make port visits to the island and therefore boost local tourism.
At least 10 more tons of these underwater obstructions are expected to be removed in the next few weeks.
The ongoing project is done by 17 divers from the U.S. Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 Company 1-7 out of San Diego, California, along with personnel from the USNS Safeguard.
This is the third time this year that the U.S. Navy has undertaken this kind of project in the CNMI.
Leading the team are officer-in-charge Lt. Michael Simmons, and CO 1-7 master diver Randy Saunders.
“Divers are working hard to clear the dangers to navigation in the Tanapag harbor entrance. Our end goal is to provide safe access to more classes of Navy ships. As a result, more sailors will be able to enjoy the beautiful island of Saipan,” Simmons said.
The team arrived here on Nov. 23, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of January 2010.
Saunders, in an interview aboard the docked USNS Safeguard yesterday afternoon, said the main priority of this mission is the removal of five “dangers to navigation” in the main Saipan channel.
“They're much larger than the ones in the past. We have to deal with them a little different from what the groups in the past were doing,” Saunders said.
Saunders, who used to be stationed in Guam, said the goal is to have a depth of at least 36 feet, “which will then allow larger vessels to enter the port,” including destroyers and guided missile cruisers.
He said the biggest they have removed so far weighs some 10 tons or some 20,000 lbs.
“On some of these dangers to navigation, we only needed to take off 4 to 18 inches off of it, instead of bringing out the whole thing because they're so massive. They cover such a large area that some of the techniques that we are using were never tried in the past,” he added.
Douglas Brennan, a member of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce's Armed Forces Committee, said clearing the Saipan channel up to 36 feet would mean bigger ships with a deep draft would be able to safely navigate the Saipan channel or the Tanapag harbor, and therefore boost the island's tourism.
“It opens up the ports to more diversified commerce,” Brennan said in a phone interview.
He said since the Saipan Chamber of Commerce started tracking U.S. military ships' arrival in 1997, the island has so far received some 51,000 military visitors.
While the CNMI's main tourism markets are Japan and Korea, along with China and Russia, the islands also cater to U.S. military personnel who are here for rest and recreation. The choice of Saipan is mostly because of its status as a U.S. territory, safe location, and natural beauty.
Most of the U.S. Navy divers involved in the ongoing removal of dangers to navigation are on Saipan for the first time.
One of them, Ben Gyger, from San Diego, California, described the place as a “beautiful island.”
“The local people are very kind to us,” said Gyger, who has been with the U.S. Navy for nine years. He said the team “has put in a lot of hours at sea” as part of the mission, but has also made time to enjoy what Saipan has to offer visitors.
In January this year, 15 U.S. Navy divers also aboard the USNS Safeguard removed over 40 tons or 80,000 lbs of corals and rock formations-the biggest U.S. Navy project of its kind so far on Saipan.