After a three day and more than 10,000 mile journey from Washington, D.C., Naval History and Heritage Command Underwater Archaeologist Dr. Alexis Catsambis arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia June 9 to begin collaboration on a survey of the World War II wreck of the cruiser USS Houston (CA 30).
The survey is a training evolution as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014 exercise series and involves Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One divers embarked in USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), assisted by personnel from the Indonesian navy. Houston was chosen as the site for the training after reports surfaced of illicit salvage operations on the ship which remains sovereign property of the U.S. under customary international law. In addition to threatening a valuable cultural resource, illicit salvaging could also damage what is a popular recreational dive site (non-intrusive, sport diving on Navy wrecks is not only legal, but encouraged
as recreational divers are often the first to alert authorities when something is amiss). Catsambis is on hand during the dive to provide operations planning support in order for the mission to effectively document the state of preservation of Houston. Documentation methods will include personal inspection by divers, as well as the planned use of sonar sensing systems and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
After arriving Monday morning, Catsambis met with Capt. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Naval Attache to the American embassy in Jakarta and an outspoken advocate
for the preservation of Houston, which is the final resting place for the more than 700 Sailors and Marines lost with her. Catsmabis then met to discuss the operation with Chief Warrant Officer Jason Shafer, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One's Diving Officer for the survey. Shafer and Catsambis joined the survey's master diver for an interview with three reporters from Kompas, the Indonesian equivalent to the New York Times. They answered questions and the reporters were given a tour of the ship.
Following the Kompas interview, Shafer, Catsambis and the survey's master diver hosted a briefing with the participating Indonesian Navy personnel to discuss the operation. Ultimately the ship's crew, the MDSU team, the Indonesian Navy and Catsambis all agreed to a survey plan that will allow the simultaneous undertaking of multiple tasks including "surface-supplied" diving, SCUBA diving and remotely operated vehicle operations. The plan also allows for the maximum amount of time on station Catsambis said the ship will get underway tomorrow and the dive team plans to begin the survey as soon as possible that day.