Thursday, September 1, 2005

NOAA research vessel Hi'ialakai, shown here moored at the Snug Harbor University Marine Center, is returning to Honolulu to repair an engine, cutting short a 35-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Fire forces research
vessel to return home

The government research ship Hi'ialakai is returning to Honolulu for repair to an engine, cutting short a 35-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

On Monday, just three days into the trip and southwest of French Frigate Shoals, there was a small fire in the engine room of the 224-foot ship, said Sean Corson, of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

"My understanding is it was a small fire that was put out quickly," Corson said yesterday, adding that no one was hurt.

The ship's crew shut down the engines to troubleshoot the problem and determined that the ship needed to be repaired in port, Corson said. "It was very well handled and hasn't presented a problem other than its interrupted schedule," he said.

Corson did not know yesterday what modifications might be made to the planned research cruise or how many scientists are aboard. He is acting reserve manager while the manager is off island at a conference.

Typically, the Hi'ialakai has officers and crew of 24 and 22 scientist-passengers aboard, Capt. Scott Kuester explained while giving a tour of the vessel last month.

The ship was built in 1984 and served the Navy and Coast Guard before being renovated for scientific work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Its four diesel engines have a total of 1,600 horsepower.

The ship now is traveling at 7 mph, about half its usual cruising speed, and probably will be back to its Snug Harbor berth this weekend, Corson said.

Corson said the ship's captain preferred that information about the incident be provided by NOAA's division that manages its fleet of ships and airplanes. However, a designated Washington, D.C., spokeswoman for that branch could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

The Star-Bulletin learned of the incident from a crew member aboard the ship but was unable to contact Kuester or Chief Scientist Randy Kosaki yesterday. The ship has limited satellite telephone and e-mail connection.

The crew member said the fire was preceded by a small explosion, but the crew member did not elaborate on the cause, instead noting that "everyone is OK, and the fire was put out quickly."

This is the second setback this summer for scientific vessels in the Northwestern Islands, which stretch 1,200 miles northwest of Kauai.

The ship Casitas, on contract to NOAA for cleanup of marine debris in the Northwestern Islands, went aground at Pearl and Hermes reef July 2.

Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve


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