Photo Essay, Story: USS Port Royal Runs Aground Off Honolulu
Focus on Defense:
HONOLULU, Feb. 24, 2009 -- Divers from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and the U.S. Navy have been working cooperatively over the course of this week to assess the extent of the grounding scar from USS Port Royal (CG 73) and to undertake emergency restoration activities on the impacted reef.
Meanwhile, the guided-missile cruiser entered drydock at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Feb. 18 to repair damage sustained when it ran aground the night of Feb. 5 a half-mile off Honolulu Airport's Reef Runway. After three unsuccessful attempts, the Pearl Harbor ship was refloated early Feb. 9.
An assessment of the damage to the ship and the repair efforts that will be needed are ongoing.
Back in the water, state DLNR representatives and Navy divers are making good progress in initial restoration efforts.
"Although initial reports indicated that the ship had grounded on a rock and sand bottom, our subsequent surveys have shown that there is in fact coral reef," said Laura H. Thielen, DLNR chairperson.
"Divers from our Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) are now working in cooperation with counterparts from the Navy to ensure that no further damage occurs, and to map the full extent of the grounding scar."
DAR divers have been in the water since Feb. 12 conducting an underwater survey of the grounding site. Divers from the Pearl Harbor-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 are continuing to support the state's efforts and already have spent hundreds of man-hours at the scene on actions that include tagging and replacing broken coral blocks.
Over the course of this week, both Navy and state divers are concentrating on mapping and photographing the extent of the damage to identify coral colonies that might be reattached to the reef using quick-setting cement.
"The Department of Land and Natural Resources' previous experience with other similar groundings, such as the Cape Flattery at Barbers Point and the Casitas in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, has allowed us to develop proven underwater mapping and survey methods that have been brought to bear on the current incident," said Thielen.
Divers also are noting the locations of detached reef blocks or other debris that might roll in the surf and cause additional damage to the reef over time. These are being removed by Navy divers specially trained in underwater salvage operations and disposed of at a deep water site approved by the DAR. The largest broken blocks are being cemented in place in order to stabilize them and prevent further movement.
As many as 42 Sailors a day from MDSU 1 have been assisting the state effort, not only moving to deeper water rocks that range from two to five feet in diameter, but also helping state biologists reattach large pieces of coral.
"We are very pleased with the cooperative relationship that has been established between the state and Navy dive teams," said Thielen. "Each group possesses skills that complement those of the other, and together we have been able to accomplish more effective emergency restoration of this valuable reef habitat than either party could have acting on their own."
The state estimates its initial assessment phase will take up to two weeks to complete. Discussions are underway with the Navy regarding any subsequent actions.
After reviewing the ship's records, the Navy has informed the state Department of Health that Port Royal discharged approximately 7,000 gallons of wastewater while the ship was aground, to prevent it from backing up and endangering the crew. The wastewater in this case consisted mostly of seawater, which is used to flush waste aboard Navy ships. Restoration efforts in the vicinity of the wastewater discharges have produced no ill health effects on the divers who have been working in the area over the last week.
When the ship ran aground, an Incident Management Command Center was activated at Pearl Harbor to coordinate information and actions among the Navy, Coast Guard, state and other agencies.
The Navy did attempt to transfer wastewater to a barge, but that effort was precluded by high winds and rough seas. The crew made every effort to mitigate the effects, including shutting off water to showers and sinks to minimize the released amounts.
"Keep in mind that while the ship was aground for those 78 hours, the Navy was concerned foremost about the safety of the crew, freeing the ship and minimizing damage to the environment," said Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walsh, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. "We regret this unintentional grounding, and we are glad that we were able to refloat the ship without injury to the crew while minimizing environmental harm."
In earlier news, the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal returned to its homeport Feb. 9 after being freed from shoal waters off Honolulu Airport. An investigation has begun into the cause of the grounding of the ship that occurred Feb. 5.
Pending results of the investigation, the ship's commanding officer, Capt. John Carroll, was temporarily relieved by Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. Smith temporarily assigned Capt. John T. Lauer III, of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific staff, as commanding officer.
Smith went aboard the ship the day after it grounded.
The Navy undertook three major efforts to free Port Royal and achieved success after removing about 600 tons of seawater, anchors and other weight.
Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walsh, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, kept the media informed throughout the weekend and held another press conference pierside shortly after Port Royal's return to Pearl Harbor.
"As I've said since the onset of this incident, our top priorities have been the safety of the crew, the safety of the ship and the safety of the environment," Walsh said. "To those priorities, no one was injured either during the grounding or during the efforts to free the ship. Secondly, the ship remains structurally sound and is safely moored here in Pearl Harbor."
Walsh noted that there was no leakage of oil, just a light surface sheen in the area. Coast Guard over flights of the area, including at first light after the ship was freed, revealed no pollution threat.
According to a Coast Guard news release, the sheen was marine diesel, a very thin fuel which burns off quickly in sunlight. "There is no threat to the coastline or marine life from the sheen," according to the Coast Guard release.
"The Navy, in coordination with the state, will conduct surveys in the area where the ship was grounded and develop a remediation plan if necessary," Walsh said.
The ship will be dry-docked to complete the damage assessment already begun by Navy divers and shipyard workers. A repair cost estimate has not yet been determined.
"I would like to extend the U.S. Navy's thanks and appreciation to the state of Hawaii, the United States Coast Guard and the Clean Islands Council for their help and cooperation during our efforts to free the ship," Walsh said.
"I would also like to commend the U.S. Navy men and women who worked day and night throughout the past three days to refloat the ship. Their professionalism and tenacity were key to our success."
The grounding occurred while the ship was transferring Sailors, contractors and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workers to shore, via small boat. There were no distinguished visitors or flag officers embarked at the time of the grounding. Reports to the contrary are erroneous.
USS Port Royal was commissioned on July 9, 1994.
(Report from State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.)
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