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NEWS | Jan. 30, 2024

UCT 1 Supports U.S. Allies in São Tomé

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Waters

Seabee divers assigned to Underwater Construction Team 1 (UCT 1) conducted a four-week cross training exercise with São Tomé Coast Guard divers, Dec. 15, 2023 to Jan. 21, 2024.


Throughout their mission, which included underwater harbor clearance efforts to allow for safer navigation through the shipping channel of São Tomé, UCT 1 provided training on emergency scuba procedures, dive medicine, lift bag operations, underwater exothermic cutting, and inspection diving with São Tomé Coast Guard divers. They also conducted multiple dives with the São Tomé Coast Guard, allowing them to practice these new techniques.


“The team has been very engaged with us, giving us an exciting opportunity to learn from and train alongside such experienced divers,” said 1st Sergeant Manuel Do Rosario, the São Tomé Coast Guard diving senior enlisted leader. “The introduction to diving equipment, safety and medicine was the first time our divers have had any formal training outside of ‘on the job training’ and we are eager to have more training and classroom opportunities in the future.”


After providing training, the Seabee divers conducted the first inspection of the commercial port since its construction in 1962. They removed four submerged shipping containers from the channel, repaired a mooring buoy anchor, and gathered 100,000 square meters of hydrographic data for the U.S. Sixth Fleet maritime infrastructure assessment program.


Over the course of their mission, UCT 1 encountered a few challenges in removing the submerged containers and repairing the mooring buoy chain.


“The fuel-mooring buoy chain was lost six years ago and buried beneath the sandy bottom,” said Lt. Joseph Bevilacqua, the officer-in-charge for the UCT 1 detachment, which reports to U.S. Sixth Fleet’s Commander, Task Force (CTF) 68. “We utilized lift bags to leap frog down the chain for 300 meters. It took three days to find the anchor and it was covered in marine growth.”


They ran into similar issues when removing the sunken containers. The containers were buried three feet deep in sand and contained several tons of concrete making them stuck in the sea floor. The structure of the containers was also compromised, causing the lift point to bend and break under the pressure of the lift bags.


“We had to move to a secondary course of action,” said Bevilacqua. “We utilized underwater exothermic cutting, which is a reliable but slow method and requires a vessel with a large deck space.”


In spite of some challenges, the teamwork between U.S. and São Tomé enabled overall mission success. Working through challenges and sharpening their skills across the board is what makes bilateral engagements such as these so beneficial for all involved.


At the end of the operation, UCT 1 completed their survey of the channel and removed hazards to navigation, leaving the Coast Guard divers better equipped to continue clearing the shipping channel. Through efforts like this, the Seabees strengthen the abilities of partner nations, allowing smoother maritime commerce and operations.


UCT 1 is a specially trained and equipped unit within the Navy Expeditionary Combat Force that constructs, inspects, repairs and maintains ports, ocean facilities, underwater systems and general maritime infrastructure. UCT is a key component of port damage repair operations during a disaster or contingency.


CTF 68, headquartered in Rota, Spain, commands all Navy Expeditionary Forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility and is responsible for providing EOD operations, naval construction, expeditionary security, and theater security efforts in direct support of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) and U.S. Sixth Fleet.


For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.


Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the USEUCOM and USAFRICOM areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.