U.S. Coast Guardsmen and U.S. Navy sailors conducted shipboard dive operations from a Coast Guard cutter in the Arctic July 29 for the first time since two Coast Guard divers perished in a sub surface accident almost 11 years ago.
Shipboard Arctic dive operations increase the Coast Guard’s ability to assure year-round access for national security, sovereign presence, and increased maritime domain awareness in the region. The shipboard dive operations also highlighted the interoperability between joint Coast Guard and Navy dive teams.
The Coast Guard conducted a comprehensive dive program review following a casualty Aug. 17, 2006, that killed Lt. Jessica Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Duque during an ice dive in the Arctic Ocean aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy. In the years following the accident, the Coast Guard improved diving proficiency and retention by making diving a primary duty and created the first three regional dive lockers to centralize control, training, and operations. The joint dive operation from Healy July 29 marked the culmination of this increased oversight, training and proficiency.
The crew of the Healy and joint dive team held a memorial to honor the fallen divers during the cutter’s current Arctic patrol.
“There is no prospect more sobering than the death of a crewmember,” said Capt. Greg Tlapa, commanding officer of the Healy. “We honor the memory of our shipmates, Lt. Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Duque, and will never forget their sacrifices. It gives our crew great pride to re-establish dive capabilities to Healy and meet the sub surface needs and challenges our service will face in the coming years in the Arctic.”
The joint dive team was compromised of personnel from Coast Guard Regional Dive Lockers San Diego and Honolulu and U.S. Navy Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Washington. Navy divers supported cold water and ice dives by providing an independent duty corpsman/dive medical technician and by conducting joint training using the Navy’s recompression chamber currently deployed aboard Healy.
“I’m humbled to be a part of such a historic operation, honoring our shipmates by reintroducing Coast Guard shipboard dive operations to the Arctic,” said Chief Petty Officer Chuck Ashmore from Coast Guard’s Joint Regional Dive Locker West in San Diego.
Divers are the Coast Guard’s primary resource for the service’s sub surface capabilities and perform a full spectrum of Coast Guard missions, including maintenance and repair to aids to navigation, underwater inspections and maintenance on icebreakers and other cutters, surveying critically-endangered species habitats, assistance to marine casualty investigations and supporting search and rescue operations.
Healy, home ported in Seattle, is a 420-foot long medium icebreaker with extensive scientific capabilities and is the nation’s premier high-latitude research vessel. Healy’s missions include scientific support, search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection and the enforcement of laws and treaties in the Polar Regions.
The Coast Guard’s leadership role in providing a continued Arctic presence is essential to national security, maritime domain awareness, freedom of navigation, U.S. sovereign interests, and scientific research.