Divers visit sunk WWII minesweeper USS Salute in Brunei Bay

U.S. Navy Divers attached to Mobile Diving & Salvage Company ONE divers serving with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces gather for a group photo at the wreckage site of USS Salute (AM-294), which sank in Brunei waters on June 7, 1945, during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Brunei 2016. Photo: US Navy

U.S. Navy divers from mobile diving and salvage unit (MDSU) 1 teamed up with Royal Brunei Navy personnel for diving operations on the former USS Salute, a World War II era minesweeper sunk by a Japanese mine during preparations for amphibious landings in the Battle of Borneo.

The diving operations that took place between November 16-18 were the first by the U.S. Navy on the wreckage of USS Salute, which lies in approximately 90 feet of water in Brunei Bay.

The operations occurred with divers embarked on USNS Salvor (T-ARS-52) that were in Brunei for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2016.

The dives on the World War II minesweeper were preceded by a remembrance ceremony at the U.S. embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan on Nov 14, where U.S. ambassador Craig Allen and Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander, Task Force 73, recognized the service and sacrifice of the fallen sailors who served in USS Salute.

“We have a unique opportunity during CARAT to pay tribute to the Sailors of USS Salute who gave their last full measure for our nation,” said Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander, Task Force 73. “Our remembrance ceremony and diving operations on Salute solemnly honor an important historical site and pay rightful respects to the legacy of brave Americans who will never be forgotten.”

USS Salute struck a mine on June 7, 1945 while conducting sweeping operations for an Australian landing force in preparation for the Battle of Borneo that liberated Brunei from Japanese imperial forces. Salute sank just after midnight on June 8, after a failed attempt by two Navy landing craft to salvage the ship.

Lt. James J. Hughes, an officer aboard Salute who survived the explosion, later recalled the final hours before the minesweeper sank.

“The ship was hit mid-ship, right underneath the belly, and it came right up through all the decks,” said Hughes. “Anybody in that area was killed, especially in the engine room. They didn’t have a chance. We hit it about 4:00 in the afternoon and sunk about midnight. We were making the last run of the day.

U.S. and Royal Brunei Navy divers conducted operations on the Salute wreckage in support of CARAT Brunei 2016. As one of the original CARAT partners, the Royal Brunei armed forces have engaged annually in CARAT since the exercise series began in 1995. The United States and Brunei have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1845, when the USS Constitution dropped anchor in Brunei Bay.

In its 22nd year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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