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Navy captain relieved of command


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POSTED: Monday, February 09, 2009

The captain of the USS Port Royal was relieved of his command today after running the $1 billion warship aground a half mile south of the Honolulu Airport’s reef runway.

Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, relieved Capt. John Carroll of his duties as commanding officer pending the results of an investigation into what went wrong.

Capt. John T. Lauer III, who is currently assigned to the staff of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, has been temporarily assigned as the guided missile cruiser’s commanding officer. Carroll took command of USS Port Royal in October.  

The Port Royal is back at a Pearl Harbor after being freed early today from a rocky and sandy shoal where it was stuck for more than three days. It was the fourth attempt to free the ship.

The 567-foot cruiser — one of the most expensive and lethal warships in the Pacific Fleet — was towed to Pearl Harbor’s “Mike” piers after being freed around 2:40 a.m. It ran aground at 8:30 Thursday night while offloading personnel to a smaller boat about a half-mile south of Honolulu Airport’s reef runway.

 It took a high tide, the salvage ship USNS Salvor, the Motor Vessel Dove and seven Navy and commercial tugboats to pull the warship free.

The Navy said today that the Aegis cruiser will be moved to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard sometime next week after a damage assessment is completed.

“Every shipyard worker is ready to do what it takes to repair Port Royal and get her back to sea as soon as possible,” Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard commander Capt. Greg Thomas said in a news release.

The 15-year-old warship ran aground in about 22 feet of water and Navy officials are concerned that there might be extensive damage to a sonar dome that protrudes beneath the bow of the ship.

The Port Royal had just completed an $18 million repair and maintenance job in the shipyard last week and was undergoing sea trials in anticipation for an impending western Pacific deployment.

Most of the crew were taken off the grounded cruiser to lighten it. More than 800 tons of seawater, diesel marine fuel, anchors, anchor chains and other equipment were removed to lighten the 9,600-ton warship.

With all that equipment and water removed from the warship, it now sits high in the water and some of its newly painted blue hull is exposed.

The Coast Guard did an aerial survey this morning of the site where the Port Royal had been stuck and found a sheen approximately one mile by 100-yards wide of marine diesel, a thin fuel that burns off quickly in sunlight, according to a news release.

The Coast Guard said the sheen was comprised of about seven to eight gallons that could have come from any of the ships involved in today’s effort. Officials said there was no threat to marine life.

“The Navy will lead the effort to inspect and remediate the site of the grounding if necessary. Our priorities have been and remain the safety of the crew, the safety of the ship, and the safety of the environment,” said Rear Adm. Joe Walsh, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.