By Dr. Alexis Catsambis, Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch
(Wednesday, June 11, 2014) Today has been an exceptionally long and productive day.
Between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. we began preparations for the day’s dives readying dive gear, prepping cameras and tagging valves, knobs and pumps aboard Safeguard to set the stage for diving operations. Following the first surface-supplied dive, it appeared clear that SCUBA diving provided a more appropriate alternative, as it offered divers increased flexibility to swim along the wreck-site. Divers from Indonesia and the U.S. Navy were both able to dive on the wreck before the 11:15 a.m. arrival of a VIP delegation.
The delegation arrived from Jakarta to participate in a wreath laying ceremony which took place at noon on the fantail of Safeguard. In attendance were the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Kristen Bauer, U.S. Naval Attaché Capt. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Marine Corps Attaché Lt. Col. Miguel Avila, as well as members of the USS Safeguard crew, and the U.S. and Indonesian dive teams. A wreath was passed from the ship to a joint U.S. and Indonesian dive team which descended into the water and affixed it to the hull below.
Following lunch with the dignitaries, and having updated them on the site assessment, the delegation departed at 12:45 p.m.
By 1:15 p.m. we were back at work launching a Seabotix remotely operated vehicle in the water on the eastern extremity of the vessel, while divers were undertaking the task of swimming the entire length of the hull to affix a second buoy on the far western extremity.
Dives continued until 5:25 p.m. and were followed by a dive brief that ended at 6:45 p.m.
Today’s operation were very productive allowing us to accomplish a series of tasks including:
* Securely establishing buoys on both extremities of the wrecked vessel.
* Obtaining GPS coordinates for both extremities.
* Establishing that the vessel is lying on its starboard side with its deck, mostly exposed.
* Observing anchor chain, and two large, hollow rings — within which the main gun turrets would have rested — along the Eastern extremity. The characteristics of the eastern extremity match those of World Warr II cruisers as well as USS Houston, allowing us to identify this end as the bow of the wrecked vessel. Additional mangled debris and significant elements lay beyond what has presently been identified as the extremity. I suspect significant battle damage was concentrated in this area.
* Observing a series of cleats, bollards, and a single large hollow ring, similar to those associated with the bow turrets, along the western extremity allowed us to identify this end as the stern of the vessel; once more, such features match those of World War II era cruisers including USS Houston. An extensive series of nets appear to blanket the bitter end of the stern. A significantly deformed area exists adjacent to the location of the former gun turret, potentially the result of the vessel losing its aft mast during the wrecking event.
At the end of the day, we made the decision to halt surface-supplied diving operations altogether in favor of SCUBA operations, affording us increased flexibility to cover the most ground in our last day of the exercise tomorrow.