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WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

USS Grapple (ARS 53)

Name: To take hold of; grab, as in to hold for rescue or salvage.

Ship name number:  II

The second ship to carry the name Grapple. The first Grapple (ARS 7) was commissioned on 16 December 1943 and decommissioned on 1 December 1977.

Specifications: Include armament and major systems at time of commissioning.

ARS-51: displacement: 3,282 tons; length: 255’; beam: 51’; draft: 16’ 9”; speed: 15 knots; complement: 91 crew; equipment: 40 ton boom aft, 7.5-ton boom forward; towing and salvage gear, including beach salvage legs; 300-ton capacity lift rollers; diving gear.

Shipbuilder: Peterson Builders Inc., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Keel Date: 25 Apr 1984

Launched: 08 Dec 1984

Sponsor: Mrs. Patricia Mason Allen, wife of Richard V. Allen, former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, 1981-1985.

Commissioned: 15 Nov 1986

Redesignated: (n/a)

Decommissioned: (n/a)

Recommissioning date: (n/a)

Strike Date: (n/a)

Final Disposition: (n/a)

Ship Insignia:


Shield: A Mark 12 diver carrying an underwater hydraulic tool is shown next to a stato anchor. Like the MK 5 diver and anchor on the previous Grapple's shield, the modern diver symbolizes the current ships' commitment to being the most technologically-advanced salvage ship afloat. In the upper right-hand corner of the shield is a Romeo flag, which is flown by a ship ready at a moment's notice to leave port and perform its mission. This flag, which was also on the previous Grapple's crest, represents the constant vigilance demanded of both crews.

The Crest: On a wreath of colors blue and gold is a bed of flames. Within the flames are three stars. Rising above the flames is a gold demi-lion with a collar that bears two white stars. The demi-lion grasps the lifeline and air hose of a Mark 12 diver.

Symbolism: The blue and gold wreath shows the colors worn by all Navy divers while diving and physically training. The flame represents the fury and danger of war; the three stars stand for the three wars in which the original Grapple served. The lion amid flames, represents the courage needed to save other ships in combat and the two white stars upon the lion's collar represents the second Grapple.

Motto: "Ready to Serve."

Chronology and Significant Events:

15 Nov 1986: Commissioned. Her mission is to provide rescue, salvage, firefighting and towing operations for the Navy.

3-19 Dec 1986: After fitting out at Sturgeon Bay, Grasp sailed, via Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and Halifax, Nova Scotia; to her new home port at Little Creek, Va.

Jan-May 1987: Inspections, certifications and training, including a deep search operations certification in the Bahama Islands in late January.

Jun-Aug 1987: Post-shakedown availability and pre-overseas movement preparations.

06 Sep 1987-3 Mar 1988: Conducted first major overseas deployment, towing Fearless (MSO-442), Illusive (MSO-448) and Inflict (MSO-456) from Little Creek all the way to the Gulf of Oman, via Rota, Spain; Haifa, Israel; the Suez Canal; and Djibouti. Returning to the Mediterranean, the salvage ship inspected buoys, towed targets and, in early February, conducted deep drone operations off Sardinia.

06 Apr 1988: Towed ex-Tercel (MSF-386) out to sea for a live fire target exercise.

24 May 1988: Target tow services for USCG cutter Tahoma (*).

28 Jun 1988: Target implant for a P-3 Orion antisubmarine warfare live fire exercise.

24 May 1988: Target tow services in the Virginia capes for Ticonderoga (CG-47).

08-15 Aug 1988: Towed ex-Tullibee (SSN-597) from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Norfolk, Virginia.

25 Aug-09 Nov 1988: Conducted second overseas deployment, this time to the North Atlantic to participate in Exercise Teamwork 88. Grapple first helped two Norwegian tugs pull Boulder (LST-1190) off the rocks in a fjord, then sailed to Bodo where the salvage ship loaded an Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) package. After which Grapple participated in Exercise Sharem 76 off the Norwegian coast, planting and retrieving Mk-60 Captor exercise mines. On 6-7 October, Grapple successfully raised Puget Sound's (AD-38) dive boat, which had sunk in 160 feet of water outside Bodo harbor.  On the way home, the salvage ship made port visits at Edinburgh, Scotland; Plymouth, England; and at Bermuda.

23 Feb-24 Mar 1989: Drydock restricted maintenance availability in Sustain (AFDM-7).

16-23 Jun 1989: Towed ex-Arcturus (AF-52) from Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico to Norfolk.

05-14 Sep 1989: Salvage dive training in Chesapeake Bay operating areas.

18-22 Sep 1989: In port at Charleston, S.C., providing local support following Hurricane Hugo.

22-28 Sep 1989: Salvage and refloating of barge IX-516 from the bank of the Cooper River.

30 Sep-03 Oct 1989: Towed ex-Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619) from Charleston to Norfolk.

01-05 Nov 1989: Towed ex-Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5) and ex-Farragut (DDG-39) from Norfolk to Philadelphia.

25 Jan-07 Feb 1990: Drydock restricted maintenance availability in Sustain (AFDM-7).

21 Feb-10 Aug 1990: Conducted third overseas deployment, arriving at Rota, Spain, on 6 March. Grapple operated as Sixth Fleet salvage ship during the deployment; recovering Harry E. Yarnell's (CG-17) anchor chain from Augusta Bay, Sicily, on 19 March; carried out diver training at Alghero, Sardinia, between 19-22 April; recovered exercise mines off Sardinia 14-17 May; and recovered the Pachino harbor buoy off Sicily 25-27 June before sailing for home 20 July. In addition to various ports in Sicily, Spain and Sardinia, the salvage ship also visited the ports of Ajaccio, Corsica; Naples and Gaeta, Italy; and Ashdod, Israel.

18 Oct-07 Dec 1990: Maintenance availability at Marine Hydraulics International Shipyard, Norfolk.

12-25 Jan 1989: USCG law enforcement detachment operations in the West Indies.

25 Jan-03 Feb 1989: Diverted to the Bahamas, where Spruance (DD-963) had run aground east of St. Andros Island. Grasp, in company with Mohawk (TATF-170), provided bollard pull and refloated the destroyer after deballasting. Grasp then towed Spruance to Pascagoula, Mississippi.

21 Apr-20 Oct 1989: Conducted second major overseas deployment to the Mediterranean. During which, Grasp participated in mine clearing exercises in addition to port visits to Italy and Turkey in addition to the islands of Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. The salvage ship also conducted contingency operations off Lebanon in August.

27 Nov-17 Dec 1989: In support of a Trident II missile test from Tennessee (SSBN-734), Grasp joined Nashville (LPD-13) and Kittiwake (ASR-13) in successfully enforcing a 5,000 yard safety circle against various Greenpeace vessels that were trying to halt the test by violating the safety zone.

16-25 May 1990: Following EOD and SEAL team exercises off Florida in January and April, Grasp located and raised the wreckage of an SH-2E Seasprite that had splashed off Mayport, Florida, finishing the job on the 23d. She then located a lost AQS-14 sonar system off Cape Henry, Virginia, on the 25th.

29 May-12 Jul 1990: Located and salvaged the wreckage of an S-3B Viking that had gone down in 10,430 feet of water off the Virginia Capes. The mission was accomplished using the Orion deep ocean search system and the CURV III remote operating vehicle.

25-30 Apr 1991: After dive school support and salvage training over the winter, Grasp recovered elements of a USAF F-16A off Atlantic City, New Jersey.

09-10 Jul 1991: Conducted an emergency tow of Chase (WHEC-718) in the Chesapeake Bay, after the cutter went dead-in-the-water.

30 Aug 1991-29 Feb 1992: Conducted third overseas deployment. While operating in the Mediterranean, the salvage ship conducted mine clearing exercises off Izmir, Turkey; recovered an anchor and 450-feet of chain lost off Butte (AE-27) in Augusta Bay, Sicily; visited the islands of Elba and Sicily; and helped NATO survey ship Alliance conduct acoustic exercises.

Grapple (ARS-53) during acceptance trials, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

12 May-10 Jun 1992: In quick succession, Grasp salvaged a sunk weather observation buoy in the Virginia Capes, recovered a T-2C ejection seat off Pensacola, Florida, and salvaged an F/A-18D Hornet off of Mayport, Florida.

03 Oct 1992: Carried out an emergency tow of Nitro (AE-23).

14-17 Dec 1992: Towed ex-Affray (MSO-511) from Newport, Rhode Island to Portsmouth, Virginia.

08 Mar-27 Apr 1993: Harbor clearance operations at Roatan Island, Honduras. Raised sunken motor vessel Wendy from 60-feet of water after 200-hours of dive time and 41 days of heavy rigging. Also conducted humanitarian relief operations on island as part of Project Handclasp. Received Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Jun-Aug 1993: Towed ex-Mahan (DDG-42) from Charleston to Philadelphia (15-19 Jun); towed ex-Elmer Montgomery (FF-1082) from Mayport to Philadelphia (28 Jun - 09 Jul); towed ex-Iwo Jima (LPA-2) from Norfolk to Philadelphia (14-15 Jul) and conducted an emergency tow of Mount Baker (AE-34) from Cape Hatteras to Norfolk (12-13 Aug).

Nov 1993: Towed ex-Wainwright (CG-28) from Charleston to Philadelphia (08-16 Nov) and conducted an emergency tow of Yellowstone (AD-41) from the Virginia Capes to Norfolk (16-17 Nov).

06-13 Dec 1993: Dry dock period in Sustain (ADFM-7) for repairs.

09 Feb 1994-02 Aug 1994: Conducted fourth overseas deployment. Grasp salvaged an F-14B Tomcat off Brindisi, Italy in March before deploying to Massawa, Eritrea for harbor clearance operations in April, where she removed the wreckage of Guiseppina, a 220-foot motor vessel scuttled during the Eritrean war for independence. In early June, Grasp recovered a splashed F/A-18C Hornet off Bari, Italy before participating in the 50th-anniversary of D-Day celebrations in France.

28 Aug-12 Sep 1994: Towed ex-Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624) from Charleston to Cristobal, Panama, where the submarine was turned over for tow to Bremerton, Washington, for recycling.

13-30 Sep 1994: Participated in Operation Uphold Democracy out of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she helped refloat Monsoon (PC-4) and recovered the warships' lost anchor and chain.

20 Feb-18 Jul 1996: Conducted fifth overseas deployment. Grasp conducted diving exercises with the Portuguese Navy and a mine exercise off Italy in March; visited Malta and Sardinia in April; removed the wreckage of a sunken fishing vessel from Sfax harbor, Tunisia, and conducted a mine removal exercise off Spain in May; and visited Constanta, Romania and Istanbul, Turkey in June.

21 Jul-28 Aug 1996: Following explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound on the night of 17 July, Grasp began recovery operations off East Moriches, New York on the 24th. The salvage ship recovered the flight data recorders the next day, the right wing and part of the cabin on 7 Aug and one engine on the 9th.

03-07 Mar 1997: Recovered wreck of an HH-60 Seahawk in 350 feet of seawater off Cape Hatteras using remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and three-point deep water moors. A line handling accident in rough weather injured five sailors and all were medivaced to a hospital.

19-31 May 1997: Towed ex-Blackhaw (WLB-390) to Puerto Rico for in support of a pre-deployment exercise by the George Washington (CVN-73) battle group.

28 Jul-11 Aug 1997: Towed ex-New York City (SSN-696) from Portsmouth to Cristobal, Panama, where the submarine was turned over for tow to Bremerton, Washington for recycling.

13-21 Sep 1997: Assisted in recovery operations following the sinking of a civilian ferry near Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

05-12 Dec 1997: Unsuccessful search for an Air Force F-15, lost in 4,500-feet of seawater.

20 Jan-20 Jul 1998: Conducted sixth overseas deployment. In contrast to her previous deployments, Grasp focused on dive-related exercises, mostly wreck clearance and explosive ordnance removal. During the deployment, Grasp's divers worked with the British Royal Navy at Gibraltar, French divers at Toulon, Tunisians at Bizerte, Moroccan divers at Al Hoceima, Bulgarian divers at Varna and met with Turkish divers at Istanbul.

29 Mar-13 May 1999: Following a winter of maintenance, sea trials and certifications, Grasp sailed to Boston at the end of March. Between 9-23 April, the salvage ship conducted a dual-tow of ex-Phoenix (SSN-702) and ex-Baltimore (SSN-704) from Boston to Cristobal, Panama. Grasp then individually towed the submarines through the Panama Canal before rigging them for the tow north to Bremerton for recycling.

14 Jun-01 Jul 1999: Assisted in the NOAA-sponsored Monitor research expedition, helping Mobile Diving Salvage Unit Two conduct photo site survey and determine the feasibility of salvaging the engine room of the sunken warship.

18-27 Jul 1999: Conducted search and recovery efforts at the crash site of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s Piper 32 aircraft near Martha's Vineyard. Recovered remains and cleared entire debris field in a total of seven dives.

Grapple (ARS-53) prepares to get underway for salvage and diving operations in the aftemath of Hurricane Katrina (Photo by PH3 Jay C. Pugh).

Oct 1999-Mar 2000: Service inspections discover cracks in diesel-engine pistons and overhaul conducted early the following year.

30 Mar - 26 Sep 2000: Conducted seventh overseas deployment to the Mediterranean. Work included diving operations with Tunisians at Bizerte, Moroccan divers at Al Hoceima, mine exercises near Augusta Bay, Sicily and Barcelona, Spain, diving with French divers in Toulon, and Algerians in Algiers. Additionally, Grasp conducted a salvage exercise involving recovery of a Sherman tank off Solerno and an exercise with British divers at Gibraltar. Other port vists included Rota, Port Mahon, Sardinia, Gaeta, and Lisbon.

16-18 Mar 2001: Assisted in emergency tow of Elrod (FFG-55) from Cape Hatteras into Hampton Roads.

20 Apr-1 May 2001: Towed ex-Narwhal (SSN-671) from Norfolk to Rodman, Panama, where the submarine was turned over for tow to Bremerton for recycling.

31 May-04 Jun 2001: Towed ex-Keywadin (ATA-213) out to sea for use as a target in a Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) battle group exercise.

11-21 Jul 2001: Recovered wreck of a USAF F-16 off Charleston, South Carolina.

05-11 Aug 2001: Towed ex-Daniel Webster (SSBN-626) from Norfolk to Charleston.

19-20 Sep 2001: Assisted Apache (T-ATF-172) in debeaching Bob Hope (T-AKR-300), which had run aground in Chesapeake Bay.

03-11 Dec 2001: Recovered wreck of a crashed Marine Corps EA-6B off Cape Look Out, North Carolina.

04-11 Mar 2002: Located wreck of a downed Navy CH-46D off the Virginia coast.

10 Apr-14 May 2002: Towed ex-Atlanta (SSN-712) from Norfolk to Rodman, Panama, before towing ex-Francis Hammond (FF-1067) from Rodman to Brownsville, Texas.

05-13 Jun 2002: Towed ex-Wainwright (CG-28) out to sea for Harpoon missile exercise. During operations, unsuccessfully searched for crashed U.K. Lynx helicopter.

21 Oct 2002-06 May 2003: Conducted eighth overseas deployment to the Mediterranean. Major duties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) included force protection and hull sweeps of incoming vessels in Augusta Bay, Sicily and support to mine hunting operations off the Suez Canal in the eastern Mediterranean.

18 Jun - 20 Oct 2003: Shipyard period at NORSHIPCO, Norfolk, and overhaul of all four main engines after service inspection discovered cracked pistons. Overhaul period was interrupted by a sortie to avoid Hurricane Isabel.

17-30 Jun 2004: After spending the winter and spring doing maintenance, sea trials, and certification, Grasp and MDSU 2 assisted NOAA in Operation Clean Sweep, recovering debris and equipment left from the 2003 Monitor turret recovery, and performed a site survey to investigate storm damage after Hurricane Irene.

16-18 Jul 2004: Served as base platform for filming "Sunken Sub" episode of National Geographic series "Expeditions to the Edge."

19 Jul 2004: Debeached USCG craft 47244, aground on Cape Hatteras beach.

20 - 31 Jul 2004: Towed ex-Nicholson (DD-982) from Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, to sea for a SINKEX in support of weapons testing.

24 Aug 2004: Met Norfolk (SSN 714) at sea. Her anchor windlass had failed, leaving the anchor fully deployed, and the submarine was unable to enter shallow water. Grasp cut the chain and recovered the anchor, allowing Norfolk to proceed to port.

25-30 Aug 2004: Towed ex-Thorn (DD-988) from Norfolk to NavSea inactive ship facility, Philadelphia.

06 -10 Sep 2004: Successfully hawked for and recovered anchor and chain for Comfort (T-AH 20), after the latter parted in heavy weather sending the ship aground near Norfolk.

20 Sep - 15 Oct 2004: Towed ex-Ticonderoga (CG-47) from Pascagoula to NavSea inactive ship facility, Philadelphia.

25 - 29 Oct 2004: Towed ex-Stump (DD-978) from Norfolk to NavSea inactive ship facility, Philadelphia.

03 - 10 Nov 2004: Towed YD-251 from Groton, Conn., to Norfolk.

01 Dec 2004 - 23 Feb 2005: Drydocked maintenance period at Collana’s Shipyard, Norfolk.

24-25 Feb 2005: Recovery of anchor and chain for Spica (T-AFS 9) after chain parted off Cape Henry.

11 Apr- 10 Oct 2005: Conducted ninth overseas deployment to the Mediterranean. While deployed, Grasp took part in dive exercises off Albania, Croatia, Israel and Tunisia. The salvage ship also took part in exercise Adriatic Engagement 2005, Sorbet Royal 2005, a multinational submarine rescue exercise 11-30 July, and conducted exhibition dives with Spanish, Turkish, and Italian submarines using Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) 8. Hosted the first ever joint Russian-US diving operation, conducting surface supplied dives from Grasp to a Turkish submarine.

19 Jan 2006: Decommissioned at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., and transferred to the Military Sealift Command (MSC).

Home Port Assignments


Norfolk, Va. [Little Creek]

Dec 1986

Commanding Officers

Date Assumed Command

LCDR Timothy B. Stark

15 Nov 1986

LCDR Robert M. Honey

11 Aug 1989

LCDR Vernon B. Millsap, Jr. 09 Aug 1991
LCDR Jeffrey M. Hill 12 Dec 1993
LCDR William P. Orr 04 Aug 1995
LCDR Ronald L. Harrell 20 June 1997
LCDR Eric B. Anderson 19 Mar 1999
LCDR Kurt E. Hedberg 30 Mar 2001
LCDR Brian C. Moum 03 June 2003


Major Overseas Deployments (or deployments away from home port for more than 2 months)

Date of Departure

Return Date

Detachments On Board

Area of Operation

06 Sep 1987

03 Mar 1988


Med/Red Sea


30 Aug 1991

29 Feb 1992



09 Feb 1994 02 Aug 1994 n/a Med/Red Sea
20 Feb 1996 18 Jul 1996 n/a Med/Black Sea
20 Jan 1998 20 Jul 1998 n/a Med/Black Sea
30 Mar 2000 26 Sep 2000 n/a Med
21 Oct 2002 06 May 2003 n/a Med
11 Apr 2005 10 Oct 2005 n/a Med/Adriatic

Unit Awards Received


Meritorious Unit Commendation

1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995

Navy Unit Commendation


Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal


Navy Expeditionary Medal 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999
Navy Battle (E) 1988


Command Histories Submitted:

1985-1994, 1996-1999, 2001

20 January 2006