By Dr. Alexis Catsambis, Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch
(Tuesday, June 10, 2014) Operations began this morning at 6 a.m. when I held a brief with Master Diver Phillips and Chief Warrant Officer Jason Shafer. By 6:30 a.m. Safeguard was located near the vicinity of the first set of coordinates that we had for USS Houston and shortly thereafter three side-scan sonar technicians and I engaged in a small-boat survey of the area to locate the target. After eliminating two possible sets of coordinates, we had a positive hit at 11:35 a.m. on a large metallic target significantly larger than 300 feet long.
Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One divers were in the water by 11:40 a.m. and by 12:05 p.m. one extremity of the vessel had been marked with a buoy. Indonesian divers went in at 1:45 p.m. to follow the length of the vessel, which lies on its starboard side, and to affix a second buoy at the opposite extremity. By the end of the dive, the second buoy was placed approximately 100 feet inboard from the first.
By 2:45 p.m. we launched the small boat again, having established the orientation of the vessel with the two buoys, to obtain side-scan sonar data along the length of the vessel, on both sides (keel and superstructure). During the third dive of the day, a combined team of U.S. and Indonesian divers moved the second buoy farther along the sheerline of the vessel.
At 3:15 p.m. we initiated a six-pass side-scan sonar survey of the hull. The survey concluded at 3:50 p.m., succeeding in capturing the overall length of the target (between 570 to 610 feet – Houston was 600 feet in length).
At 4:20 p.m., the determination was made to moor Safeguard in preparation for surface-supplied diving, which would provide divers with increased bottom time. The mooring evolution concluded at 6:15 p.m., after which I met with MDV Phillips regarding tomorrow’s objectives.
At the end of the day, the question is, are we moored over USS Houston? I can say the target we are straddling is in the approximate area of the engagement, is of the correct length and time-period, and appears as one of two major wrecks on nautical charts of the area. I did not observe anything in the data gathered thus far that would positively identify the site as USS Houston. However, nothing we have come across thus far would question such identification.
I will say that we have identified a site that matches the characteristics of USS Houston and tomorrow we expect to begin surface-supply diving and remotely operated vehicle operations on it.