Savannah, Georgia - Sailors from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 6, along with Naval History and Heritage Command and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are diving the Savannah River to salvage the Civil War ironclad CSS Georgia.
Literally plunging into history, the team is in the water recovering Civil War-era ordnance and projectiles, rendering the site safe for the next stages of the mission.
"We have already recovered upwards of 100 pieces of unexploded ordnance and discarded military munitions from the river bottom," said Chief Warrant Officer Jason Potts, on-scene diving and salvage commander. "Once this portion is wrapped up, we can move on to cannon recovery and large artifact removal."
The salvage of the ship from the river is necessitated by the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP. In order to deepen the river from 42 to 47 feet for larger ships, the ironclad needed to be removed.
If the ship were not removed it would be demolished by the expansion because the wreck sits right on the shoulder of the channel used by commercial ships entering the port.
Planning took efforts from several sources, starting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
"The project has huge national benefits," said Russell Wicke of the Army Corps of Engineers Corporate Communications Office. "An economic study shows the transportation cost savings could be upwards of $174 million a year."
With the project in early planning stages, USACE reached out to the Navy for assistance.
"The Army Corps of Engineers sent a request asking for help to the U.S. Navy," said Rick Thiel, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) project manager. "That is how we got involved and coordinated all of the units out here."
The Savannah River is an 18-mile stretch of water that connects the Port of Savannah to the Atlantic Ocean. The dive site location controls when and how the team goes about the recovery process.
"The environment in the Savannah River is unique," said Potts. "With the strong current, civilian and commercial boat traffic, and the Georgia weather in July, we have had challenges, but with careful planning, we came prepared to meet those challenges."
MDSU-2 and EODMU-6 conducted training throughout May and June to prepare for the CSS Georgia salvage operation. During this time, the units had to build cohesion between the two different groups. The team also trained to familiarize themselves with the equipment they are using, and the murky conditions of the river.
"The first couple of days we worked out the kinks, and now we are all really settling into a nice groove," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Justin Wallace, assigned to MDSU-2. "Everybody really knows their job, and we are working together flawlessly."
The team is utilizing high-tech sonar, underwater imaging equipment and a variety of modern-day dive equipment, but the historical importance of the mission isn't lost in a slew of technology.
"I'm just really proud of my Sailors, and we are all very proud to work on this piece of history," said Potts.
Navy divers are in the water every day, throughout the world, performing a diverse array of mission sets. With 2015 serving as The Year of the Military Diver, the CSS Georgia is a perfect illustration of their capabilities as they dive into history.
U.S. Navy EOD is the world's premier combat force for countering explosive hazards and conducting expeditionary diving and salvage.