BUFFALO, NY–Two members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District dive team traveled to Busan, South Korea to inspect a joint base dock at Pier 8, shared by the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and South Korean military on May 30, 2017 and returned on June 9, 2017.
The Buffalo District dive team members, Shanon Chader and Adam Hamm, were joined by two members of the Philadelphia District, Steve England and Derek Burleigh, and one member of the St. Paul District, Kraig Berberich. The joint dive team is known as the Forward Response/Technical Dive Team. The team was sent to perform work on behalf of the Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center for the Installation Management Command.
The Pier 8 dock is half-owned by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, and half-owned by the South Korean military. By U.S. Army regulation, any structure that is under water or partially built under water has to be inspected every five years. This is the dive team’s second time inspecting this particular dock, previously done in 2012.
The inspection in Korea was a joint operation between the Corps of Engineers, Military Sealift Command (MSC), the 837th Transportation Battalion, and the South Korean military. The Corps of Engineers and BN S-3 Operations Officer Capt. Steyer L. Rehorn worked jointly with South Korean military personnel to obtain a boat and operating crew to assist in the inspection of the dock.
“It is definitely a challenge to coordinate and work with several USACE Districts, Military Sealift Command, the 837th Transportation Battalion and the South Korean Military. The geographic, 13-hour time difference and language barrier all contributed to the challenge. In the end, all parties worked extremely well together to accomplish the mission,” said Shanon Chader.
The dock is shaped like the letter L and is large enough to handle large vehicles for loading and unloading ships. The inspected portion of the dock is about 2,100 feet in length (875 feet owned by the Republic of Korea and 1,250 feet owned by the U.S. military), and approximately 30 feet down below the water to the structure’s toe. A feature that makes the dock somewhat unique is that it is made with various sized block stacked in a brick pattern on top of each other, with a concrete slab going across the blocks that holds them in place. The design relies on gravity to keep it stable. In contrast to this design, docks commonly are made of solid concrete blocks mortared together, or cast-in-place reinforced concrete walls.
The divers used a technique called tethered SCUBA diving, a process by which the diver is attached to an umbilical at the surface and the diver is able to slowly descend at his preferred speed, with the ability to be pulled out of the water by his dive tender on the surface if an emergency arises.
“The umbilical is an important part of the dive for two reasons,” said Adam Hamm. “The primary reason is for safety and being able to find the diver underwater if there are any issues. The second is for communication, the diver is able to convey what they are inspecting to the surface so detailed notes can be taken of the inspection.”
One might wonder what the hardest part about this trip was for the divers. Was it navigating under water with limited light? Was it the language barrier or transportation? The most challenging aspect of the trip, according to Adam Hamm, involved logistics.
“We shipped our gear out weeks before we were due to arrive because it had to go through customs in the U.S., then customs in Italy. However when it reached Italy, it accidentally got shipped back to the U.S. and they weren’t sure if it would get to Korea on time. So, another dive team in Portland that had the same gear shipped theirs to Korea for us to use and then we had two sets of gear because ours made it to Korea shortly after.”
The entire inspection took about two and half days. The inspection was completed both visually and by hand, and while the team video records the inspection, once a diver reaches the deepest parts of the dock, there’s typically not enough light to allow for adequate footage. At the lowest depths, inspections are performed predominantly by touch. The five-person dive team always had one diver in the water, a stand-by diver waiting to go in the water to assist, a dive tender, a dive supervisor, and a another team member working lines, gear, etc. All team members ensured the safety of those in and out of the water.
The Buffalo District dive team has extensive experience performing similar underwater inspections, having done 60 dives across the U.S. and in other international locations in Japan and Italy. For more information about the dive team’s capabilities and experience, visit the Buffalo District website at http://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/Missions/Interagency-Support/Dive-Team/.