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NEWS | June 5, 2024

Fortifying partnerships: US Army, AFP divers clear Basco Port obstacles

By Staff Sgt. Tristan Moore, 8th Theater Sustainment Command

U.S. Army divers with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade partnered with divers from the Philippine Army’s 525th Combat Engineer Battalion to remove rock obstacles at the Port of Basco as part of exercises Salaknib and Balikatan 2024.

The rock clearance project started on April 6, and operations will last approximately 60 days. This removal project will enable vessels to utilize the port more efficiently, increasing financial opportunities for the local community and improving access for commercial use, routine military exercises, and humanitarian aid and disaster response, crucial for addressing ongoing threats in this natural disaster-prone region.

“The removal of obstructions in an active civilian port requires precise and deliberate execution, and every one of our Soldiers trained on these skills at our home station to reduce the inherent risks associated with the mission,” said Capt. Ander Thompson, commander, 7th Dive Detachment. “Our mission is to build partnerships with our AFP partners while providing tangible port improvements for the people of Basco.”

During an initial site survey by 7th ENG divers in October 2023, they observed more than 100 large boulders within the Port of Basco, some exceeding three meters in diameter. In coordination between the Philippine and U.S. governments, and at the request of the Batanes governor and Basco mayor, the Philippine and U.S. Armies agreed to remove the obstacles to increase the port’s usability.

“I’m extremely proud of the work the combined team of divers are doing in the Port of Basco,” said Maj. Gen. Jered Helwig, commanding general, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “The Philippines is our oldest ally in the Indo-Pacific, and the combined team of divers are making a tangible difference that will improve port access for years to come.”

According to Thompson, the divers used a variety of methods, including lifting, rigging, light dredging, underwater drilling, jackhammering, and non-explosive detonation methods, to break the rocks into smaller pieces and clear the port. “This team continues to advance our proficiency in engineer mobility operations by conducting port clearing and port damage repair across the Pacific. We spent weeks deliberately training for this mission,” said Thompson.

To ensure the U.S. divers were prepared for the mission, they completed a comprehensive training cycle at their home station on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oahu, Hawaii, where they meticulously planned, researched, and trained for the breadth of variables they could encounter throughout the project.

Before the dive detachment departed for the Philippines, they collaborated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center out of Vicksburg, Mississippi to increase familiarization with geotechnical reduction in constrained environments and the safety measures the team could implement to accomplish the mission while protecting the environment and nearby port.

Preserving the local ecosystem remains paramount to the operation, and the divers gave each rock unique consideration. Additionally, the team worked with the local government and agreed that all material removed from the port will be repurposed for future construction projects on the island.

While the combined team of U.S. and Filipino divers reinforce the importance of safety for both the divers and the ecosystem, they have also learned from each other, sharing best practices and techniques along the way.

“Working with the U.S. Army divers is a big opportunity,” said Philippine Army 1st Lt. Alexis Nocos, a rescue diver assigned to the 525th Combat Engineer Battalion, Combat Engineer Regiment. “We have done a lot of learning [with them]; it really is a good experience to work with them.”

​Exercises like Salaknib and Balikatan improve collective military readiness and enhance interoperability, benefiting the local communities by enabling the participating forces to serve and support them.