The Navy Is Back: USNS Grapple in Tangier

TALIM Grapple departs

USNS Grapple departs Tangier – photo by Gerald Loftus from atop the American Legation

"Military Sealift Command (MSC) operates approximately 110 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners."

TALIM Grapple crestOne of the specialized missions of the USNS Grapple, which sailed into Tangier on an R&R and goodwill visit last weekend, is sending divers down to wrecks of US warplanes shot down during World War II.

Captain Curtis Smith, Master of the Grapple since 2006, told us about missions in the Mediterranean which have recovered the remains of downed American flight crews and pilots, sometimes still encased in their cockpits.

Other missions have included recovery of commercial airplanes crashed at sea, including TWA, Egypt Air, and Swissair accidents off the East Coast of the US and Canada. This powerhouse of a ship can lift a huge multi-ton battle tank from the sea floor.

"Grapple," a pretty vivid name for a ship that can tow a battleship, was first given to a ship commissioned in 1943 (the current USNS Grapple dates back to 1986).

In Tangier, the visit was very well-received.  No wonder: as far as we can determine, this is the first US Navy visit to the port city on the Strait of Gibraltar in some sixteen years.  Tangier used to be a regular port of call for US Navy ships, and we have B&W photos of some big ones gracing Tangier Bay.

So we were happy to take part in activities relating to their visit, including a Sunday morning "COMREL" or community relations event at Borj El Hajoui (aka Bab Marsa), the former Portuguese fort that, thanks to restoration work funded by Morocco's INDH and executed by Tangier NGO FTAM, has become home to a number of medina-based community cultural groups.

One of those was the Hammich family troupe of acrobats Taoub (Mohamed Hammich is a veteran of Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey in the US, and spent some three years in Las Vegas – of whom more in a forthcoming post).  The "junior division" put on a show (see photo below) that the sailors – mostly divers – really enjoyed, a fitting tribute to a welcome ship visit.

A moonlit shipboard reception for Moroccan Navy, civil authorities, NGOs involved in the community event, and local Americans topped off the visit.  The Grapple sailed off into the Strait of Gibraltar sunrise first thing this morning.


TALIM Borj acrobats

Photo courtesy Ali Abijou, "L'Economiste"

 Gerald Loftus

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.