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(above)Petty Officer 3rd Class Kurt Eberle waits for a tool bag before he begins a dive project
in support of the fast attack submarine USS
Miami(SSN-755). Photo by John Narewski.

by Molly Little

Since its inception, the Submarine Force has received support from the Office of the Navy Supervisor of Diving and Salvage and Director of Ocean Engineering. As mission platforms and capabilities increase, the support needed from the authorities on diving and salvage increases as well.

Capt. Patrick Keenan, a Princeton, N.J. native, is currently serving as the U.S. Navy Director of Ocean Engineering, Supervisor of Salvage and Diving. Capt. Keenan is an Engineering Duty Officer with marine salvage, drydocking, and ship repair experience. He is qualified in air, mixed gas, and saturation diving systems and as a docking officer for both floating and graving drydocks. Capt. Keenan has served in engineering and deck/salvage capacities aboard ATF and ARS class salvage ships and as the Seventh Fleet Salvage Officer. He is a registered professional engineer and marine surveyor. His research related to waterborne ship repair was published in the Naval Engineers Journal. He holds a U.S. patent for his invention Method and Apparatus for Thermal Insulation of Wet Shielded Metal Arc Welds, and he was the 2000 American Society of Naval Engineers Claude A. Jones Award winner for excellence in the field of Naval Engineering.

Earlier this year, Capt. Keenan provided UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine with details on the ways his office provides support to the Submarine Force and how the support is growing as the capabilities within the Fleet grow:

“The Office of the Navy Supervisor of Diving and Salvage and Director of Ocean Engineering is the Navy’s technical authority for salvage, marine pollution control, diving, diving systems certification, ocean search and recovery, and underwater ship husbandry. First, salvage and marine pollution control are what we call ‘national missions.’ National missions go directly to federal law. Title 10 of U.S. Code of Federal Regulations stipulates that the Secretary of the Navy will provide facilities for salvage of public and private vessels. It further defines salvage to include protecting the environment, because normally when you have some problem with a ship, whether that ship is a tanker or not, there is fuel involved. Diving is one of the tools we use for salvage, but diving is also used in many other areas within the Navy. Historically, my office has been responsible for salvage and diving, but more recently we have become the technical authority for diving as it relates to anything the Navy does. In addition to salvage diving and underwater construction work, we work with special warfare and EOD [explosive ordinance disposal] communities to make sure they will have the tools and the procedures they need to do their jobs.

The diving life support systems that are fielded through this office, whether by contract or by Navy operators and developers directly, need to be operated and maintained in a safe manner. The Diving Life Support System Certification Branch, which is part of this office, ensures that they are. They do that not just for the Navy, but for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and other organizations with the DoD [Department of Defense], even the Homeland Security Department. And it makes sense for all the diving communities to be supported by one office vice each DoD department funding identical organizations.

Deep Ocean Recovery, another element of my office, is a specialized part of salvage. Sometimes components of interest are lost in water too deep for human recovery. So we maintain a government owned, contractor operated, suite of systems that can do search and rescue in up to 20,000 feet of sea water. This covers the majority of what is out there. For example, we were recently able to recover part of a B52 for the Air Force and a helicopter for the Coast Guard that would have been otherwise unrecoverable.

The last area, the part that affects the Submarine Force, is underwater ship husbandry or working on ships and submarines while they are water borne. This includes emergent work or maintenance work that is done to keep a ship or submarine operational. We can do propellor change outs, work inside ballast tanks, patching ballast tanks, SPM-SPU [Secondary Propulsion Motor-Secondary Propulsion Unit] change outs, work on sensors, retractable bow plane work, etc. There is a myriad of work that we can do on submarines. If we can figure out how to replace or repair the submarine in the water, we don’t have to dock the boat. That is important because docking assets are expensive, time consuming, and limited. We estimate that while the work would cost about the same in the water as at the drydock, the actual cost of drydocking a submarine for one week (including setting up the drydock and submarine for the work to be done) is significant. When you complete the work in the water, you don’t need to pay the costs associated with drydocking or more importantly, place extra work on the Sailors. In an average year, we avoid about 33 submarine drydockings by completing work in the water.

images, captions follow

(Top)Capt. Patrick Keenan, Director of Ocean Engineering, Supervisor of Salvage and Diving discusses the support his office provides to the Submarine Force. Photo by Niicole Martin. (Bottom)Petty Officer 3rd Class John Seagraves gets ready to start his dive off the back of the dive boat. Seagraves is part of Naval Submarine Support Facility dive locker. Photo by John Narewski.

To maximize the advantages from in water repairs, our underwater ship husbandry group is continually developing and refining existing procedures to complete work in the water. The group works with diving personnel to develop procedures and equipment to make the underwater ship husbandry personnel more effective in the water. My office develops the procedures, and then goes out in the field to manage the procedures and maintain necessary equipment with Fleet dive lockers. It is a combined NAVSEA-Fleet effort; however, my office is responsible for maintaining the equipment and ensuring it is in a “ready to use” status.

The Virginia-class and SSGNs are relatively new and force us to continually develop and assess procedures to support the maintenance of these new submarines. Our goal is to provide maintenance and support for both old and new submarines to keep them out of drydock as much as possible. The other aspect of these new submarines that we support is submerged diver deployment and recovery. My office is the center of expertise for this new, exciting capability.

Although the technical authority and a significant amount of technical expertise about diving and salvage resides in this office, the real work gets done out in the Fleet. The SEAL teams, the EOD personnel, the submarine support dive lockers—that is where the real work gets done. Those are really capable groups of people. We have a great diving capability in the Navy in ship repair, special operations, and EOD. It’s the best in the world.”

Ms. Little is the senior editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.