SIU Crews from the Safeguard, Wheeler and Fast Tempo Pitched In
Seafarers recently took part in a search and recovery effort that grabbed headlines around the world.
On April 16, a South Korean ferry, the MV Sewol, capsized during a trip between Incheon and Jeju while carrying 476 people. More than 300 have been listed as dead or still missing and the event has become an international news story.
To help its South Korean allies, the United States launched an American recovery effort that included the USNS Safeguard, which is crewed with SIU Government Services mariners. The Safeguard was also assisted by the Seafarers-crewed, TOTE-operated USNS Wheeler and its support boat, the USNS Fast Tempo.
Arriving at the site of the tragic Sewol sinking in late April, the Safeguard provided support to the U.S. Navy’s recovery effort, including the use of its recompression chamber. That chamber was especially useful to Navy divers as it allowed them to get used to normal conditions following their operations deep under the water.
“For our part, we conducted a lot of small boat operations to move U.S. Navy dive and salvage personnel back and forth from the Korean ships in the area,” said AB Michele Stevens.
Knowing that hundreds were dead and missing, the crew worked tirelessly to get the job done.
AB Joseph Palomo said it was impossible not to feel the weight of the work they were doing.
“Everyone here on the Safeguard felt sad for the families of the victims,” he said. “Our hearts went out to them.”
Compassion for the families, added Bosun James Gage, worked to further motivate the crew as they worked through sometimes difficult conditions.
“Out of respect for those who died, our involvement focused on broad area searches of the surrounding area,” he said. “The water was really cold and you could see that there was a lot of drift current in the area. I can’t say whether or not our searches were successful, only that we safely launched and recovered our boats daily for about a month.”
As the recovery effort stretched into May, another SIU-crewed operation was launched. Capt. Glenn Macario of the Wheeler said his vessel’s supply ship, the Fast Tempo, was selected to do the job.
“The Safeguard was running low on some supplies and had a large backlog of mail in Busan, South Korea. Meanwhile, a large amount of trash was piling up,” Macario wrote in an email. “The MSC office in Busan floated the idea of using Fast Tempo for a re-supply run and permission was granted by MSCHQ (Military Sealift Command Headquarters) in Washington, D.C.”
On May 12, the Fast Tempo, a 160-foot support boat crewed with five mariners from the Wheeler’s regular contingent, then loaded 30 sacks of mail and 17 pallets of supplies, including critical spare parts for the Safeguard’s recompression chamber. The vessel quickly made its way to the Safeguard to unload its supplies and gather the Safeguard’s trash. By 6 a.m. May 14, the Fast Tempo had returned to Busan from its supply mission.
“The USNS Wheeler’s SIU crew played a role in the entire operation,” Macario wrote. “Wiper Braulio Ente made the trip to the Safeguard as part of the Fast Tempo’s crew. The 17 pallets of supplies and the dumpster were loaded and secured by Bosun Jerry Gonzaga, assisted by ABs Carlo Gentile, Tony Olaya, Edsel Renegado and Kyle Silva.”
Macario added that he and the crew were glad to help in any way they could.
“All hands can be proud of the fact that they played a small part in assisting our South Korean allies during this tragic event,” he wrote.