Wilmington District Christens New Survey Vessel

Wilmington District
Published Dec. 14, 2012
After its christening, Wilmington District Navigation members take the Swart family for a short ride on the Cape Fear River. (Photo by Henry Heusinkveld)

After its christening, Wilmington District Navigation members take the Swart family for a short ride on the Cape Fear River. (Photo by Henry Heusinkveld)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District officially launched its newest survey vessel – SWART – with a Nov. 30 christening ceremony at the Engineer Repair Yard.

     The boat is named after Dirk Swart III (1935-2011) who served as captain and operator of District survey vessel GILLETTE from 1971 to his retirement in 2002 at the age of 76.  Swart was not only the senior survey boat skipper, but he was also the last veteran of World War II to retire from the Wilmington District. 

     Swart’s four children participated in the christening with his oldest daughter Connie Swart Pettit having the honor of “smashing” a bottle of champagne across the vessel’s bow.  His other children, Penny Swart Ledbetter, Lynda Swart Davis, and Dirk Swart IV were also in attendance and participated in the ceremony honoring their father.  All four live in North Carolina.

  Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who attended the ceremony, issued a proclamation honoring Swart’s 30 years of service to Wilmington District as well as his service to the nation during World War II.  The proclamation commended the men and women of the Wilmington District, the crew of the SWART, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its work in Wilmington and coastal North Carolina.

     Other dignitaries in attendance included Mary Ellen Simmons from Congressman Mike McIntyre’s office, Captain Anthony Popiel, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Commander for North Carolina, and Jason Powers, plant manager, Silver Ships, Inc.  Silver Ships built the 48-foot, twin-engine SWART for the Wilmington District’s fleet. 

     The SWART, which replaced the aging GILLETTE, is state-of-the-art, said Wilmington District Commander Col. Steven Baker.  “It is equipped with advanced surveying capabilities including a multi-beam surveying suite and night vision capability.”

     A lot of hard work and collaboration between the Wilmington team and the Silver Ship team went into making this vessel state-of-the art, Baker said.  “We face challenges in our dredging operations, and our survey vessels play a prominent role in gathering hydrographic data that enhance maritime safety,” he said.  “The Coast Guard uses the information we gather to help them locate navigational aids and to make determinations for navigation safety.”

     Wilmington District survey vessels are the first on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway following hurricanes.  When hurricanes strike the North Carolina coastal areas, navigation and shipping lanes can become extremely dangerous.  Boats and ships may sink, and storm surge can drag cars or even houses into the ocean.  Sea floor topography shifts creating shoals of sand and debris.  The District’s hydrographic survey vessels are called to calibrate the shifting sand, and to detect obstructions in the waterways.

     Following the formal portion of the christening ceremony, the Swart family joined the District commander on the ship’s hull for the traditional “smashing” of the champagne bottle across the ship’s bow.  Doing the honors was Connie Swart Pettit, the oldest of the four Swart children.  Pettit and her family live outside of Zebulon, N.C.  Pettit told several District staff members that she did not realize how much esteem her father was held in by the men and women who worked alongside him on the GILLETTE until the christening ceremony.  She said she was very moved, and proud.

     The ceremony of christening new ships began in the distant past with the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.  All held ceremonies to ask the Gods to protect sailors.  Maritime superstition holds that a ship that isn’t properly christened is considered unlucky. 

     The SWART joins a district fleet that includes the survey vessels SNELL, BEAUFORT,SANDERSON, BUTLER, WELLS  and dredges MERRITT, CURRITUCK and MURDEN.