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USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51)

The USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) is a Safeguard-class salvage ship, the second United States Navy ship of that name. The ship was laid down on 30th March and constructed by Peterson Builders in 1983 at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and commissioned into the United States Navy on 14th December of 1985. The ship was the second ship of the newest auxiliary rescue and salvage class of vessels constructed for the US Navy. The ship was built to exacting specifications with its hull below the waterline ice strengthened. The Grasp is powered by four diesel engines producing 4,200 shaft horsepower which made the Grasp well suited for rescue and salvage operations around the world.

Keel Laid March 20, 1983
Launched May 21, 1984
Commissioned December 14, 1985
Decommissioned January 19, 2006
Builder Peterson, Sturgeon Bay
Propulsion System 4 Caterpillar 399 Diesel Engines
Propellers 2
Length 255 feet (84.0m)
Beam 51 feet (18.0m)
Draft 15 feet
Displacement 3,283 tons, full load
Speed 14 Knots
Armament 2 x 50 caliber machine guns; two Mk-38 25mm guns
Workboats 35 Ft. Aluminum Boats, two 14-Ft. Inflatable Boats
Fleet Atlantic
Workboats 2 x 35-Ft. Aluminum Boats, two 14-Ft. Inflatable Boats
Military 4
Civilian 26 civil service mariners
IMO Number 8434324
MMSI Number 338842000
Callsign NADQ

The United States Navy is responsible for the salvaging and rescue of its vessels and some times privately owned boats as well. The salvage capability of the ship is achieved by way of twin booms, the larger one located aft and able to lift 40 tons with the second one held forward with a capacity to haul 7.5 tons. Equipped with fire monitor stations forward and amidships that allow fire fighting foam or sea water to be used against onboard fires whilst portable equipment stored in its 21,000 cubic feet salvage hold makes it possible to provide assistance to other vessels in need of water pumping or patching holes in the hull. The sghip carries additional generators for additional electrical power and other service machinery that makes her invaluable to vessels in distress.

The ship is equipped with propulsion machinery that provides a bollard pull (towing force at zero speed and full power) of 68 tons, is an Almon A. Johnson Series 322 double drum automatic towing machine. Each drum carries 3,000 feet (910 m) of 21?4-inch-diameter (57 mm) drawn galvanized, 6×37 right-hand lay, wire-rope towing hawsers, with closed zinc-poured sockets on the bitter end. The towing machine uses a system to automatically pay-in and pay-out the towing hawser to maintain a constant strain. The automatic towing machine also includes a Series 400 traction winch that can be used with synthetic line towing hawsers up to 14 inches in circumference. More than enough brute force to tow and refloat stranded vessels at sea and lift aircraft and ships from the ocean floor during recovery operations it is this adaptability that provides the Grasp the ability to provide aid to ships.

The Grasp has a several diving systems supporting different types of operations including rescue missions. The MK21 MOD1 diving system supports manned diving to almost 60 m on umbilical surfaced supplied air. A mixed gas system can be utilised to support diving to a maximum depth of 92 m. The established MK20 MOD0 diving system allows surface supplied diving to a depth of 20 m with lighter equipment. Divers descend using a diving stage lowered by one of two powered davits. For shallow water diving the Grasp carries SCUBA equipment enabling greater mobility than surface supplied dive systems. For diver safety the ship is equipped with a double lock hyperbaric chamber for recompression after deep dives or for the treatment of divers suffering from decompression sickness.

Originally commissioned as the USS Grasp (ARS-51), the vessel was ready for her first assignment to provide rescue, salvage and towing operations wherever needed. In 1986 she escorted the Shreveport (LPD-12) from New York to Little Creek, Virginia. The same year the Grasp provided another escort for the Merrimack (AO-179) out of Chesapeake Bay back to the Grasps home port of Little Creek.

Her Career

The first overseas role for the Grasp was in October 1987, in the Mediterranean towing targets for fleet gunnery practice. As part of this she towed decommissioned destroyer USS Impetuoso (D-558) which was sunk by torpedo during practice. In 1988 she was part of the salvage fleet assigned to recover a general Dynamics / Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft that had crashed off of the coast of Florida. The following year, the destroyer USS Spruance (DD-963) ran aground at St. Andros Island. The Grasp and the fleet ocean tug USS Mohawk (TATF-170) safely refloated the destroyer after which the Grasp towed the destroyer to Mississippi waters.

In 1990 she was assigned to assist Seal Team exercises manoeuvres off the coast of Florida and then given the task of raising the wreckage of a sophisticated Kaman SH-2E Seasprite helicopter off the naval station Mayport. She was later sent to recover a Lockheed S-3B Viking aircraft lost off the coast of Virginia. The Grasp supported a diver school training program in 1991 and sent to tow the Coast Guard high endurance cutter, USCGC Chase (WHEC-718). In 1996, Grasp took part in the recovery efforts of TWA Flight 800 which crashed off of Long Island, New York.

The USS Grasp (ARS-51) served the US Navy for 20 years of service until decommissioned in January 2006 and transferred to Military Sealift Command (MSC). In the shipyard changes to the engine plant and bridge operations were made to allow a smaller sized crew to operate the ship. She became the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) in a ceremony at the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek. After the shipyard period, the vessel began a training phase introducing the smaller civilian crew of 69 persons with experience in operating the ship.

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Grasp was staffed with a team of structural engineers from the US Army Corps of Engineers and dispatched on 16 January 2010 to Haiti's devastated seaport in Port-au-Prince as part of Operation Unified Response to assess for and complete emergency structural repairs so that large military and civilian cargo vessels may unload their rescue aid shipments more efficiently. USNS Grasp is one of Military Sealift Command's four Rescue and Salvage Ships complementing the 41 ships already part of the Military Sealift Command's Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force. Military Sealift Command currently operates approximately 109 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships worldwide. In addition, the command has access to 50 other ships that are kept in reduced operating status, ready to be activated if needed.

On January 18th, the USNS Grasp arrived in Haiti to assist in diving salvage operations in the damaged harbor of Port-au-Prince in support of Operation United Response. The salvage vessel was joined by the United States Army's 544th Engineer Dive Unit to assess the data from underwater scans of the port provided by the USNS Henson, another MSC vessel used by the Ocean Technology Foundation off the Yorkshire coast in 2010. The goal was to reopen the port facilities and expedite the unloading of relief supplies. Once the obstructions were checked by the drivers the USNS Grasp was sent in to clear the underwater debris - as only she and her crew can.