Cablegate: Salvage Talks in Hcmc - No U.S. Ship, but Progress

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary. In expert-level U.S.-Vietnam talks regarding
options for underwater recovery of Vietnam War-era MIAs, the
GVN agreed "in principle" to U.S. technical suggestions, but
stressed that underwater search and recovery operations
would continue to be carried out on Vietnamese vessels only.
The U.S. presented detailed plans for survey and recovery
and multiple courses of action covering various
contingencies. The Vietnamese side offered access to
Vietnamese ships and equipment and suggested alternatives to
allow recovery efforts to go forward without falling afoul
of Vietnamese concerns about U.S. military operations in
Vietnamese waters. End summary.

Working group meeting 3-5 March 2004

2. A working group composed of GVN and U.S. DOD officials
met March 3-5 to discuss options for the future conduct of
underwater operations for recovery of U.S. Vietnam War-era
MIA personnel. The teams were composed of the following

U.S. delegation:
Mr. Mel Richmond, DPMO, policy advisor;
LTC Phuong Pierson, DPMO;
MAJ Tuan Ton, PACOM;
Mr. Joel Patterson, JPAC;
Mr. Rich Wills, JPAC;
Mr. Richard Hites, JPAC;
CDR Steve Kennedy, PACFLT;
CDR Babette Bush, MDSU 1;
Master Chief Bill Crider, MDSU 1;
Mr. Gary Flanagan, Detachment 2, JPAC;
Mr. Tom Cuff, Navy Oceanographic Office;
MAJ Robb Etnyre, DAO Hanoi;
Mr. Marc Forino, political officer, U.S. Consulate HCMC.

Vietnamese delegation:
Mr. Pham Van Que, Director, VNOSMP;
Sr. Col Vuong Xuan Mau, MOD Deputy, VNOSMP;
Mr. Pham Dung, Deputy, Ministry of Public Security, VNOSMP;
Mr. Doan Van Ban, Specialist;
Sr. Captain Nguyen Van Tuyen, SRV Navy Deputy Chief of
Captain Vu Ngoc Tuyen, 125th Brigade Commander;
Captain Ngo Van Dong, SRV Navy International Affairs
Captain Tran Nam Long, SRV Navy political officer;
Captain Han Tri Binh, 125th Brigade technical director;
Captain Hiep, Titan ship captain.

3. Mr. Richmond reviewed U.S. policy on the full accounting
of U.S. personnel missing in action in Vietnam, then began
the discussion of the USG desire to conduct underwater
recovery operations. The working group reviewed ideas to
identify mutually acceptable courses of action to locate and
recover identifiable remains of Americans offshore.
Richmond stated the U.S. policy goal was to "efficiently and
accurately locate off-shore loss sites and recover
identifiable remains while ensuring the safety of team
personnel, American and Vietnamese alike."

JPAC presentation on underwater losses

4. JPAC representatives reviewed the current situation and
past activities related to underwater losses and operations.
According to JPAC, the United States suffered 444 losses
underwater as a result of the war in Vietnam. Of these
losses, 382 are classified "non recoverable", with 62 cases
having the potential for recovery. Of these 62 cases the
USG has preliminary location data on 7 cases. To date, there
have been 7 joint underwater activities (aka "Joint Field
Activities" or JFA) in the SRV, as follows:

- 33rd JFA (1995): investigation
- 35th JFA (1995): investigation
- 49th JFA (1998): investigation
- 55th JFA (1999): recovery
- 66th JFA (2001): investigation
- 69th JFA (2002): recovery
- 70th JFA (2002): combined investigation and recovery

JPAC briefed the working group in detail on past
investigation and recovery operations, including lessons
learned from each activity. JPAC stated that strategies,
methods, teams, equipment, and vessels must be tailored to
best fit each particular case, and each separate phase of
activity required by a particular case. Investigations are
much more complicated in water than on land, JPAC noted.
More complex tools are often required, specifically,
navigation, positioning, and the recording of large amounts
of electronic data. Areas considered to possibly contain
sites are often quite large. An additional, intermediate
step between search and recovery is often necessary, the
JPAC team stated.

5. According to JPAC, it is best if search, survey, and
recovery operations are conducted in order. However, the
search and survey phases can be combined, and a survey phase
that transitions into a recovery phase can also be
effective. What often leads to difficulty, JPAC noted, is
the transition between finding a site, and beginning
recovery, without fully surveying it. A survey phase is
frequently more important on underwater sites than on land
sites. Typically, search and survey are both considered
part of the investigative process, JPAC stated.

6. JPAC emphasized that for joint underwater operations in
the near future, search (defined as looking for possible
sites in specific areas defined by analysis) and survey
(investigating and evaluating possible sites located during
a search) operations must be emphasized over recovery
operations. It would be necessary to develop better
information on more sites in order to have some flexibility
of choice in selecting sites for recovery, JPAC said. The
flexibility is important because sites vary in terms of the
weather, the logistical challenges of working them, and the
resources available to dedicate to them at a specific time.
Currently, JPAC has this flexibility on land because they
have multiple land sites to choose from when planning an
action. Presently, this is not the case with underwater
sites, they noted.

7. JPAC also noted that excluding areas from further search
- demonstrating that an area was searched and found to be
empty - was an important result of search and survey efforts
that yielded negative results.

8. Search areas must be selected using a combination of
witness information, historical SRV military records, and
U.S. historical loss information, JPAC added. JPAC
acknowledged the essential role of the VNOSMP's unilateral
investigations in identifying Vietnamese witnesses, which
had resulted in the location of underwater sites. These
witnesses were often the best sources of information, JPAC

9. JPAC concluded their presentation by again suggesting
that any underwater operation include a three phase
operation to ensure mission accomplishment and scientific
process integrity: Phase I - area search; Phase II - site
survey; Phase III - site recovery. The following planning
factors were also presented:
- Due to the unique nature of each site, courses of action
will require refinement.
- Some sites' proximity to local fisheries may make search
and survey difficult due to potential risks to
- Search area size will be defined based on each unique site
in order to maximize effort.
- Operations 45-60 days in length would optimize search
efforts and assets.
- The search and survey phases of operations could be
combined to facilitate designation of reliable recovery
sites at the time of discovery.

JPAC Search and Survey Proposals

10. JPAC proposed three search and survey courses of action

COA 1. Utilize a T-AGS 60, USNS survey vessel to perform
detailed search and survey with multi-beam depth sounders,
sidescan sonar, and magnetometers. Analyze data onsite for
diver same/next day investigation.

- SRV obtains high resolution hydrographic data sets
- unique opportunity for onboard SRV hydrographers
- onboard survey launches, sensor suite, & onboard
- onboard recompression chamber
- onboard accommodations for all personnel (including
- pre-survey port visit provides opportunity to coordinate
& familiarize SRV hydrographers with ship's capabilities.

COA 2. Use a Vietnamese vessel for U.S. Fleet survey team
and divers to perform a detailed search and survey with
remote sidescan sonars, and magnetometers. Analyze data
onsite for diver same / next day investigation.
- remote sensor suite (sidescan sonars & magnetometers)
- SRV obtains high resolution hydrographic data sets of
- no onboard recompression chamber
- no onboard accommodations, requiring additional transit
time for all personnel
- unable to survey a large area for future use by SRV

COA 3. Contract several small Vietnamese boats for U.S.
Fleet survey team and divers to perform a limited search and
survey of only a few sites with remote sidescan sonars, and
magnetometers. Analyze data onsite for diver same / next
day investigation.
- remote sensor suite (sidescan sonars & magnetometers)
- small footprint of equipment / boats required
- no onboard recompression chamber
- no onboard accommodations requiring additional transit
- greatly limits size of areas that can be searched
- quality of hydrographic survey data of little use to SRV.

Proposed Recovery Operations COAs

11. JPAC proposed three recovery COAs.

COA 1. Utilize a U.S. Navy salvage ship (ARS vessel) to
conduct a recovery of previously designated sites, including
heavy sediment removal and wreckage lifting.

- modern, deep-sea diving system (190ft on air/300ft on
mixed gas)
- heavy sediment removal / lifting capacity (40 tons)
- onboard recompression chamber
- onboard accommodations for U.S. / Vietnamese personnel
- pre-recovery port visit provides opportunity for closer

COA 2. Utilize a Vietnamese salvage vessel to conduct
recovery operations at previously designated sites,
including heavy sediment removal and possible wreckage
- may provide heavy sediment removal / heavy lift
- may provide onboard recompression chamber
- no onboard accommodations, requiring additional transit
time for personnel
- may limit lifting capability.

COA 3. Utilize a U.S. ARS vessel and a Vietnamese salvage
vessel to conduct side-by-side recovery operations of
previously designated sites, including heavy sediment
removal and wreckage lifting.
- modern, deep-sea diving system (190ft on air/300ft on
mixed gas)
- heavy sediment removal/lifting capacity (40 tons)
- onboard recompression chamber
- onboard accommodations for U.S./ Vietnamese personnel
- SRV port visit/tour opportunity
- unique opportunity for both teams to conduct recovery
- requires SRV approval for U.S. vessel
- will require increased planning and cooperation.

12. The Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) senior policy advisor
concluded the USG presentations during the working group by
stating that the preferred future course of action in
underwater recovery was to employ U.S. and Vietnamese
recovery vessels jointly (side-by-side) to locate and
excavate underwater loss sites. He proposed both sides
share information and techniques for conducting underwater
recovery operations, and invited six Vietnamese experts to
visit Hawaii in the April - May 2004 timeframe to tour U.S.
facilities and recovery vessels at the invitation of Admiral
Fargo, Commander, Pacific Command.

SRV presentation:

13. After discussing the USG information on past underwater
recoveries in Vietnam, methodology on how to properly
conduct underwater operations, and proposed courses of
action for future operations in this area, the Vietnamese
made their presentation. First, the Vietnamese Navy team
presented the detailed characteristics of three of their
ships, which could be made available for future underwater
operations: Titan, HQ957, and HQ958. Two of these ships,
Titan, and HQ957 were made available for the entire working
group to precisely assess the vessels' capabilities,
equipment, and personnel, and to identify areas for
necessary equipment augmentation to successfully conduct
underwater recoveries. (Note: USG officials had previously
toured both these vessels in detail in 2003. End Note.) The
initial assessment was that both Titan and HQ957 were
capable of basic salvage operations but search and survey
operations could be more difficult. Separate reports,
prepared by salvage and dive experts from Mobile Dive and
Salvage Unit 1 (MDSU), PACFLT, on the capabilities of these
two vessels to support search, survey, and recovery
operations will follow septel.

14. Following the detailed presentation on the SRV vessels,
VNOSMP Director Que presented the GVN position with regard
to the future conduct of underwater search, survey and
recovery operations. Que declared the meeting "informative
and helpful" and said it would assist the GVN in
understanding USG future planning for operations in this
area. Que added the review of past lessons learned and
equipment and installation requirements were "very good for
GVN officers to understand for future operations." Que said
he agreed "in principle" with the ideas the U.S. side
presented, specifically, the three phases of operations.
Que agreed to receive supplemental equipment and resources
from the U.S. and noted the SRV Navy was ready to work on
training and procedural details to increase their capacity
and make future underwater operations more successful. Que
noted that the U.S. request to expand the maximum time
window for specific underwater activities to 45-60 days
would be possible on a case-by-case basis.

15. Regarding using a U.S.-flagged vessel for underwater
operations, Que stated that both sides should "pay attention
to security limitations and operations in security
corridors". Que stated the GVN agreed to use a SRV vessel
that is compatible with the types of operations to be
conducted and which is also compatible with the necessary
U.S. equipment. He added he understood the desire of U.S.
families of MIAs to use a U.S.-flagged vessel. However, as
mentioned in a previous meeting between Deputy Prime Minster
Nguyen Tan Dung and U.S. Congressman Mac Collins (reftel),
the GVN could only use a SRV vessel in these recovery
efforts. Que noted that DPM Dung agreed to use U.S.
equipment on a SRV vessel. Mr. Que also promised SRV would
provide better weather data for future operations along with
providing an appropriate SRV vessel for each underwater

16. Noting past USG concerns about SRV vessels' mooring
capabilities and decompression facilities, Que state that
the GVN "would find a way to work through these problems,
and find a way to work a multi-point mooring". He stated it
was possible that past SRV preparations were "not adequate
in this area," but he was confident the SRV Navy could
achieve success in future operations. Additionally, Que
pledged the SRV Navy would provide a decompression chamber
on shore or on a SRV vessel as necessary to support future
underwater operations. Que asked if the U.S. could make
"more specific" requests in the future with regard to
equipment and underwater recovery operations. Que also
invited CDR Bush from PACFLT, a dive and salvage expert
attending the working group, to return this summer to again
tour and assess both the Titan and HQ957 while underway at
sea. Que offered the final suggestion that if the U.S. was
set on a U.S ship for use in recovery operations, the USG
might consider providing a ship to the SRV for this sole

17. Comment: The GVN's willingness to cooperate in
underwater recoveries was clear from the tone of the
discussions. The GVN appears willing to make all necessary
resources available, and allow U.S. equipment to be used to
support joint underwater recoveries. The use of a U.S.-
flagged ship either in search, survey, or recovery continues
to be unacceptable to the GVN. The next step in the process
is for six members of the GVN to visit USPACOM in Hawaii to
tour (April - May 2004) U.S. facilities and survey/salvage

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