The U.S. Navy has sent a salvage and rescue ship to the South Korean coast to provide assistance at the site of the South Korean ferry wreckage, service officials said.

South Korean authorities are expected to issue a formal request for the USNS Safeguard to respond to the South Korean ferry that capsized April 16 in the waters off South Korea. The ship was traveling from Incheon, South Korea to Jeju Island, Navy officials said.

At least 87 are reported dead and 200 of the 476 people aboard the ferry are still missing.

The 255-foot USNS Safeguard, on route to the site now, is equipped with anchors, wires, ropes, salvage buoys and towing gear in order to salvage disabled vessels or retract stranded vessels. Salvage ships such as the USNS Safeguard have been used for a variety of operations over the year such as providing assistance for the Japanese tsunami in 2011, Navy officials said.

The Navy's Safeguard will join an amphibious assault ship already on site, the USS Bonhomme Richard. The USS Bonhomme Richard was merely a few hours away on a routine patrol in the waters off of the Korean Peninsula when it quickly changed course and headed to the disaster scene, Navy officials added.

MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters from the Bonhomme Richard have been flying search missions in a 15-mile circle around the wreckage in an effort to locate survivors or debris, Navy officials said.

The Navy has also sent a salvage engineer and master diver to the wreckage in order to provide help to the South Korean search and rescue efforts. The master diver is on a South Korean amphibious ship called Dokdo, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool.

U.S. sailors from the Bonhomme Richard have boarded the Dokdo and South Korean sailors have boarded the U.S. Navy's ship in order to facilitate communication and collaboration regarding the rescue efforts, Navy officials said.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@monster.com