The USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) is a Safeguard-class salvage ship constructed by Peterson Builders in 1983 at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and was commissioned in the United States Navy in December of 1985. Originally commissioned as the USS Grasp (ARS-51), she was ready for her first assignment to provide rescue, salvage and towing operations whenever and wherever needed. In 1986 she escorted the Shreveport (LPD-12) from New York to Little Creek, Virginia. Another escort the same year was for the Merrimack (AO-179) out of Chesapeake Bay back to the Grasp's home port of Little Creek.
The defined mission parameters of such rescue and salvage ships is varied. They tow and refloat stranded vessels at sea and can also lift aircraft and ships from the ocean floor during recovery operations while doubling as a platform for manned diving operations and rescue missions. These ships are equipped with fire monitor stations forward and amidships that allow firefighting foam or sea water to be used against onboard fires. These ships have portable equipment stored at lower holds to provide assistance to other vessels in need of water pumping or patching holes in the hull. They also offer generators for additional electrical power and other service machinery that may be required to aid ships and put them back into operating condition.
The United States Navy has the accountability of salvaging and rescue all of thier own vessels at sea and - if in the best interests of the US Government - some privately-owned boats as well. The adaptability of the Grasp and her class of ships provides the Navy with the muscle to provide aid to ships of all sizes while working with divers against underwater obstructions. In addition to her firefighting abilities, this makes her a valuable assistance to those vessels in dire need.
The robust construction of the steel-hulled ship is well-matched with her speed and staying power, making the Grasp well-suited for rescue and salvage operations anywhere in the world. Below the waterline, her hull was referenced as if she was an ice breaker ship. The Grasp is powered by four diesel engines producing 4,200 shaft horsepower that allow her to tow a "supercarrier" at 5 knots. The salvage capability of the ship come into play by way to twin booms, the larger one located aft and able to lift some 40 tons with the second one held forward with a capacity to haul 7.5 tons. The MK12 and MK 1 air diving systems allow the divers on board to tether diving down to a depth of 190 feet.
The first overseas assignment of the Grasp was in October of 1987, this sending her to the Mediterranean to towing targets for fleet gunnery practice. This also included the towing of the out-of-date destroyer USS Impetuoso (D-558), sunk at sea by torpedo during practice. In 1988 she was assigned salvage duty to recover a general Dynamics/Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft that had crashed off of the coast of Fort Meyers, Florida. In the following year, the destroyer USS Spruance (DD-963) ran aground at St. Andros Island and the Grasp, along with the fleet ocean tug USS Mohawk (TATF-170), steamed into action to refloat the destroyer. Once freed, Grasp towed Spruance to Mississippi waters. In 1990 she was assigned to assist Seal Team exercises off the coast of Florida and then charged with raising the wreckage of a Kaman SH-2E Seasprite helicopter off of Mayport. Later she was sent to recover a downed Lockheed S-3B Viking aircraft off the coast of Virginia. She supported a diving school training program in 1991 and was sent to tow the Coast Guard high-endurance cutter, USCGC Chase (WHEC-718) when she lost her engine. In 1996, Grasp took part in the recovery efforts of TWA Flight 800 off of Long Island, New York following the crash.
Grasp continued to serve the US Navy until January 2006, to which she was transferred to Military Sealift Command (MSC) after 20 years of service. She became the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) in a ceremony at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. After the shipyard period, the vessel began a training phase designed to provide the smaller civilian crew of 69 persons with experience operating the ship. Grasp will be manned by 26 civilian mariners along with 4 military personnel during this time. Changes to the engine plant and bridge operations will allow such a sized crew to operate the ship.
On January 18th, 2010, USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) arrived in Haiti to assist in diving salvage operations in the damaged harbor of Port-au-Prince in support of Operation United Response. The salvage vessel was joined by the United States Army's 544th Engineer Dive Unit to assess the data provided from the USNS Henson's underwater scans of the port. The goal was to reopen the port facilities and expedite the unloading of relief supplies. Once the obstructions were checked by the drivers the Grasp was sent in to clear the underwater debris - as only she and her crew can.