BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the ongoing effort to save USS The Sullivans, we've been telling you that divers are playing a key role in determining the level of damage or any obvious areas of leaks within the hull of this still partially submerged World War II-era ship.
2 On Your Side on Thursday was able to speak with one of the divers who spends a lot of his working day underwater.
First, we wanted to let you know that one of the first lakers has come into the Buffalo River this spring shipping season. A large grain ship carefully backed its way through the Buffalo River after giving two weeks notice of arrival. It went right past the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, and the still partially sunk by the stern USS The Sullivans.
The grain ship followed that no wake or large waves notice to protect the stricken ship, and to protect people like Robert Dorato. He is a Bidco salvage diver who carefully suited up Thursday afternoon. With his surface oxygen-fed diving helmet, he was lowered by a basket crane into the again-cloudy water for that close-up inspection of The Sullivans.
"This is what we do every day on my job," Dorato said. "Usually it's all by feel. You shut the lights off and it's all by feel, so that's where I specialize in."
Now his specialized work will help to guide the team of the Naval Park, City of Buffalo, and experts like a naval architect who will come up with a strategy to somehow safely get the ship upright again, after its bad list and the stern actually sinking into the sediment.
Now while we've had chilling weather at the waterfront earlier this week, that's no big deal to divers who actually do have warm water pumped into their diving suit.
"That's where everybody is shocked," Dorato said. "We do it year-round. Winter, spring, fall, it's snowing and blowing, we're out there diving."
While they are just checking the exterior of the ship right now, they may eventually also check some of the flooded compartments below decks.
Dorato noted: "Everything we deal with on the job is confined space, so I'm used to that kind of work, and I won't put myself or anybody else in a pinch point while surveying the hull of the ship or doing any other type of work."
Dorato has a safety support crew with a topside tether and a safety standby diver ready to jump in an emergency to help him.
But he's also confident with his very wet work as he says, "When I was coming out of high school, it was either be an ironworker or a diver. And I didn't like to climb ladders, and I hate climbing more than 10 feet, but I'll go 100 feet underwater."
Dorato was also plugging about five holes he found while underwater Thursday.
2 On Your Side did not push for any answers on what this diver is actually seeing because his reports and videos will help guide the Naval Park, U.S. Coast Guard, and all the assembled experts who will brief the media Friday afternoon on their next plans to Save USS The Sullivans.
In other developments on Thursday, the Coast Guard and Naval Park jointly announced these points:
- Weather conditions deteriorated from the previous day. Strong winds gusting up to 40 MPH have slowed progress;
- Security of the site and workers is primary and a site safety plan is in place;
- Ship list is stable at 15.4 degrees to the starboard side;
- A United States Coast Guard drone operator from Cleveland is on site and was using a drone to take images and video of the site to evaluate the shoreline and any contamination;
- The containment boom around the stern has been tightened to allow for the Liberty Hound patio to be opened;
- 7,510 gallons of oily waste and 9 cubic yards of oily debris to date;
- 11,420 gallons of water were pumped from the bow of the ship;
- Bow is now sitting 6” off the bottom of the river where the ship is moored;
- United States Coast Guard is using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle - underwater drone) to capture footage of the damage control process;
- BIDCO teams have added a gangway from the pier to the stern of the ship for worker access;
- Divers in the water today and are continuing their hull survey and inspection;
- Divers plugged 5 holes in the hull in the 2 to 3-inch size;
- T&T Marine has added two new team members. They are using the information gathered and developing an entry plan to safely enter the ship.