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
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.