Peace Time: Minesweepers Versus Hurricane Katrina


November 23, 2005: Following the disastrous flooding and devastation causes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast, the US Navy dispatched a number of warships to support emergency relief operations and the initial recovery. Among these warships were six of the fleet's handful of minesweepers, technically designated "Mine Countermeasures" ships - MCMs. Although the mission of the six vessels went largely unheralded, compared with the photogenic operations conducted by the helicopters and LCACs (air cushion landing craft) of the vastly larger amphibious warships that took part, it has perhaps the greatest impact on the recovery operation of any of the ships taking part, as they helped get the Gulf Coast's oil refineries back into operation, and, not incidentally, enabled the amphibs to reach New Orleans and some of the other affected places.

One of the least noticed effects of the two storms was to deposit an enormous amount of debris - ranging from boats and cars to houses and electrical transmission towers - that had been swept into the shipping channels. These created hazards to navigation, closing the ship channels to tankers bring oil to largely undamaged refineries and to repair ships and support vessels attempting to reach offshore oil rigs.
The six MCM ships were sent from the Navy's Mine Warfare Center, in Ingleside Texas, near Corpus Christi, with the mission of locating and identifying potential hazards to navigation in over 200 miles shipways, which could then be removed.

The flotilla was led by the USS Scout (MCM-8). Scout had just returned from several months of operations with the Third Fleet, in the Pacific, and her crew had to be recalled from leave. The ship was selected to lead the mission because she was equipped with an innovative side-scanning radar system, which greatly enhanced her ability to examine the bottom.

Scout and the other vessels are units of the Avenger Class. Built almost entirely of wood and non-ferrous metals, to reduce their magnetic signature, the fourteen vessels entered the fleet between 1987 and 1994. This ships displace 1,367 tons at full load, are 224 feet long, 39 feet wide, and draw just 15 feet, making them ideal for operations in shallow waters. In addition to an impressive variety of mine detection and clearing equipment, the ships are normally armed with two M2HB .50 cal. machine guns, two 7.62mm M60 machine guns, two MK19 Grenade Launchers.

They have four Isotta Fraschini diesel engines rated at 600 horsepower apiece, which drive two controllable reversible pitch propellers, and two rudders. Official speed is 24 kilometers an hour, they are reportedly able to make about 27; for minesweeping operations, however, they are able to operate at speeds as low as 3-4 kilometers an hour.

Two units of the class operate out of Bahrain and two out of Sasebo, Japan. The rest are based at Ingleside.


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