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US NAVY PHOTO

February 22, 2009

Cruiser grounding damaged coral

US NAVY PHOTO

The 3 1/2-day grounding of the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal off Honolulu Airport's reef runwaycaused significant damage to coral reef as well as to the ship itself.

The Navy has released photos of the warship in dry dock showing damage to its propellers, sonar dome and scrape marks on a hull that just months ago had been repainted a bright blue.

The ship ran aground Feb. 5 half a mile off the reef runway, and was freed Feb. 9 by the salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), which included an embarked detachment of Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 personnel, the Motor Vessel Dove, and seven Navy and commercial tugboats

On February 7, 2009 three members of the American Salvage Association (ASA) provided added salvage support to the U.S. Navy's Supervisor of Salvage by mobilized their staffs for a response team consisting of a salvage master, assistant salvage master and a salvage engineer, by managing logistics and contracting and by providing commercial resources required to support the Navy operation either on site or from corporate offices. The three-day salvage effort involved tugs, a lightering barge, labor and other third-party services to assist the Navy with the successful salvage effort.

The salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), which included an embarked detachment of Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 personnel, the Motor Vessel Dove, and seven Navy and commercial tugboats freed Port Royal off a shoal on Feb. 9.

"ASA is proud of its member companies' collaborative effort with the U.S. Navy on this grounding incident. This successful work required people, resources and a quick professional response and ASA's members were able to provide all three to get the job done right," said John A, Witte, Jr., President, American Salvage Association.

However, since the salvage, divers from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DNLR) and the U.S. Navy have been working cooperatively to assess the extent of the grounding scar from and to undertake emergency restoration activities on the impacted reef.

"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," she said.

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.

Both Navy and state divers have been 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."


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