Off-shore, Kairiru Island, Papua New Guinea
“Permission to come aboard.”
“Permission granted, Captain Mannington,” stated the young RAN lieutenant, as he returned the salute. The RAN lieutenant was the acting officer of the deck abroad the Bentano. “Commander Hastings is waiting for you on the bridge. I will escort you, sir.”
Mannington followed the young officer to the bridge where he was warmly greeted by Commander Hastings.
“That boat yours?” inquired Hastings as he and Mannington stood on the bridge of the Bentano.
“Yes,” replied Mannington as he looked at the Benthic Ranger now grounded on the shoals.
“I guess that it is a research submersible, care to elucidate me?”
“I’m sorry commander; I am not authorized to say anything more than it is a submersible and it is ours. The United States thanks you for finding our lost ship.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“We have a special team coming to Papua New Guinea that can safely retrieve the submersible. Barring any diplomatic snafus, it should be here in a few days. Once the craft is freed from the reef, an ocean going tug will take it to our base in Guam.”
“But is that necessary? Guam is almost 1,300 nautical miles from here, we can certainly accommodate you yanks in Australia. The South Pacific can be unpredictable.”
“Thank you commander, but we have special facilities in Guam.”
As predicted by Mannington, a small group of U.S. Navy vessels appear on the horizon fairly shortly thereafter. The USNS Navajo, a Powhatan class ocean-going tug, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, would take the Benthic Ranger in tow. She was accompanied by two destroyers, which seemed curious to the RAN officers on the Bentano.
“You certainly don’t want anyone messing with this tow, do you?”
“I guess Washington just doesn’t want anything to go wrong with this vessel,” replied Mannington. “Can I quarter some of my divers and their gear on the Bentano? There will be five of them.”
“Sure can, mate,” replied Hastings. “They can bunk with my clearance divers.”
“Thank you, commander.”
Unbeknownst to the Australians, the small flotilla was also shadowed by the USS Greeneville, (SSN -772) a fleet attack submarine that was recently commissioned in Hawaii. The Greeneville was specially outfitted to deploy and retrieve U.S. Navy Seal teams underwater. As the three surface ships approached the RAN group already in place, the Greeneville deliberately fell back and went silent. There was no reason to let the Aussies know that an American attack submarine was in the area.
Lieutenant Eoghan Thorson, USN, reported to Mannington along with his four man team on board the Bentano. All five of the men stood about six feet tall and were lean and muscular. The distinguishing characteristic of the team was seen in their quiet disposition; none of the men except Thorson spoke anything more than pleasantries during the introductions to the Australian clearance divers.
Eoghan Thorson’s team would take the lead in securing the Benthic Ranger with a flotation collar and check the vessel for seaworthiness. They would not attempt to enter the vessel.
The Australian clearance divers were somewhat put off by the taciturn Americans, but chalked it up to the fact that the five man team would have to dislodge and float a “hot” vessel. They could understand that the Americans were concerned and focused on their assignment that carried a potential for radiation poisoning. What the Australians didn’t know was that Thorson and his men were members of the elite S.E.A.L. group and were working undercover.
Lt. Thorson secured his craft to the Benthic Ranger and his team dove in to examine the vessel and attach the tow harness and flotation gear that they had carried with them. After making sure that everything was solidly connected, Thorson backed off the stranded vessel and inflated the flotation bags. The Benthic Ranger gave a shudder and rose from its bed. Once afloat, two of Thorson’s crew dove underneath to make sure that there no glitches and that the bottom of the vehicle was undamaged..
Mannington and the Australians stood on the bridge of the Bentano and watched the operation using binoculars. The Australian officers were impressed with the speed and precise orchestration of the operation.
“Your chaps sure have that down pat,” inquired Hastings.
“They have a lot of experience at this,” replied Mannington.
“Aren’t they concerned about radiation poisoning? We found some fairly high readings around that craft and that is why we pulled our CDT off the scene.”
“They know the risks; they’ve trained for this many times,” replied Mannington unsmilingly. Besides they were given precautionary doses of iodine before boarding your vessel yesterday. Anything they get should pass through their systems quickly.”
As Thorson and his team floated the Benthic Ranger into deep water, the Navajo moved in closer to the action. Eventually, a line was carried to the Navajo and using that line, a tow rope was feed out to the Benthic Ranger. Once the shackle was secured, the dive team’s work was done and they motored over to one of the destroyers.
As Mannington noted that the Navajo had taken the Benthic Ranger in tow, he bade farewell to his Australian host. “Commander Hastings, please accept my personal and my government’s appreciation for assisting us in the recovery of this research vessel. Now that my dive team has finished their work, I will join them on the destroyer for the journey to Guam. With your leave, I would like to have my men gather the dive team’s belongings and join me on the launch.”
With that Mannington gave Commander Hastings a smart salute and he retired to the launch that would take him to the American ship.
Hastings watched the American convoy head over the horizon. Without directing his comments to anyone in particular, he said, “Damn Americans, it would have been a lot quicker taking that thing to Darwin.”
The departure of the Navajo with its package in tow was also observed by the various and sundry commercial vessels in the vicinity. In particular, a tuna fishing ship had been trolling the sea off of Kairiru Island. As the Navajo disappeared over the horizon, the tuna fishing vessel also broke free from the other tuna ships in the area and seemingly headed north toward Japan.
“Is that your vessel?” inquired the captain of the tuna vessel to his companion on the deck.
As their equally pale blue eyes met, the other person replied, “Yes.”