US Navy and Royal Brunei Navy Conduct Historic Dives on Wartime Shipwreck

US Navy and Royal Brunei Navy divers in a group photo at the wreckage site of the USS Salute during the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2016 Exercise on November 15. – TASK FORCE 73

US Navy and RBN conduct historic dives on wartime shipwreck
on: November 18, 2016
| James Kon |

ON JUNE 8, 1945 during preparations for amphibious landings in the Battle of Borneo, after clearing 143 mines from harbour entrances along the coast of Borneo, the USS Salute was struck by a Japanese mine and sunk to the bottom of Brunei Bay . Six crew members were killed and three went missing.

Recently US Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) ONE teamed up with Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) personnel for a historic diving operation on the former USS Salute.

The diving operations were the first ever conducted by the US Navy on the wreckage of USS Salute, which rests at the bottom of the Brunei Bay, under 90 feet of water.

The operations involved divers embarked on the USNS Salvor (T-ARS-52), which was in Brunei for the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2016 Exercise.

The dives on the World War II minesweeper were preceded by a remembrance ceremony at the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam on Nov 14, where US Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Craig Allen and Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, Commander of the Task Force 73, acknowledged the services and sacrifices of the fallen sailors who served on board the USS Salute.

“We have a unique opportunity during CARAT to pay tribute to the sailors of the USS Salute who gave their last full measure for our nation,” said Rear Admiral Gabrielson. “Our remembrance ceremony and diving operations on Salute solemnly honour an important historical site, and pay rightful respects to the legacy of brave Americans who will never be forgotten.”

The USS Salute struck a mine on June 7, 1945 while conducting sweeping operations for an Australian landing force in preparation for the Battle of Borneo that liberated Brunei from Japanese imperial forces. The USS Salute sank just after midnight on June 8, after a failed attempt by two Navy landing craft to salvage the ship.

Lieutenant James J Hughes, an officer aboard the USS Salute who survived the explosion, later recalled the final hours before the minesweeper sank.

“The ship was hit mid-ship, right underneath the belly, and it came right up through all the decks,” said Hughes. “Anybody in that area was killed, especially in the engine room.

“They didn’t have a chance. We hit it about four in the afternoon, and sank about midnight. We were making the last run of the day.”

For US Navy divers who visited the USS Salute’s wreckage, it was an opportunity to pay tribute and reflect on a wartime site in which several US service members perished.

“These operations provided US Navy divers a unique opportunity to work alongside our Bruneian counterparts on a very meaningful project,” said Lieutenant Chris Price, the Detachment Officer in Charge of the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit ONE. “We are preserving our navy’s rich history and heritage, and giving a very fitting remembrance to these fallen sailors.”

Divers from the US Navy and the RBN conducted joint operations on the USS Salute wreckage, in support of CARAT Brunei 2016.

As one of the original CARAT partners, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) has engaged annually in CARAT since the exercise series began in 1995.

The United States and Brunei have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1845, when the USS Constitution dropped anchor in Brunei Bay.

Task Force 73 and DESRON 7 staff conduct advanced planning, organise resources and directly support the execution of maritime exercises such as the bilateral CARAT series, the Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam, and the multi-lateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.


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