UCT-1 Inspect NAS Pensacola’s Port Following Hurricane Sally

Story by Joshua Cox, Naval Air Station Pensacola

Seabees with Underwater Construction Team One (UCT 1) based on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Va., conducted an underwater inspection and assessment of Naval Air Station Pensacola’s deep water port this week.

Seabees from Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 1 prepare to conduct a dive in order to assess Hurricane Sally damage to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola’s deep water port, Oct. 7, 2020. (Photo by Ensign Jahanna Conner)

The purpose of the team’s mission here was to evaluate the port area and survey damage caused by Hurricane Sally.

“Our primary mission is to support the Navy and the Marine Corps through underwater construction to include piers, pipelines and cable systems,” said Constructionman Senior Chief Petty Officer Liam O’Brien, who organized and supervised the UCT 1 team and the operation. “Port damage repair is also part of our mission. We are the ones who come in and ensure the port is open and safe, and has the services necessary for the ship to pull in and refit.”

In this case, a major hurricane was Naval Air Station Pensacola’s obstacle, and following Sally the base required the expertise of the Seabees with UCT 1.

“The purpose of this mission is extremely similar to our wartime mission,” said O’Brien, who serves as the UCT 1 command master diver and operations chief. “This would be one phase of it — the inspection portion of it.”

Specifically, what we are down here to do is to let NAS Pensacola know if the port is able to support the vessels that normally moor at the pier, O’Brien said. We are also here to conduct a damage assessment on the port and make a salvage plan.

During the mission, Seabee divers explored the sea floor around the port and used complex equipment to map an image of the area underwater.

“We have equipment that can essentially produce a map of the sea floor, and you can see the terrain underwater,” he said.

The maps identify large debris and obstructions on the sea floor, and provide valuable data for the salvage plans.

Additionally, O’Brien said the team visually inspects the port above the water’s surface and creates the model of the area using AutoCAD drafting and design tools.

All of the information gathered from the mission will also assist engineers with the port’s reconstruction effort.

The team of six Seabees utilized a small inflatable craft during the inspection and assessment, and the divers used hybrid surface air supplied scuba gear.

O’Brien said the Seabees use surface supplied air, but in scuba mode. The equipment allows the team to be lighter and faster, and gives them the ability to use smaller craft to reach locations quicker.

O’Brien said the Seabees selected to participate in the mission onboard NAS Pensacola were motivated and eager to assist following Hurricane Sally on the Gulf Coast.

“Morale is extremely high with my team here,” O’Brien added. “These (Seabees) are excited and happy to be here. Supporting the base, supporting the Navy and the fleet is of key importance to us.”

The results of the port’s survey and assessment will be available to NAS Pensacola officials in the next week.

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