Captain of grounded warship relieved of duty


POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The key to freeing the 9,600-ton guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal from a rocky and sandy shoal near the Honolulu Airport reef runway was removing more than 600 tons of sea water, anchors, anchor chains, sailors and equipment.





        Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding

Cost: $1 billion


Propulsion: 4 gas turbine engines


Length: 567 feet


Beam: 55 feet


Displacement: 9,600 tons


Speed: 30-plus knots


Crew: 24 officers, 340 enlisted


Armament: Standard missile, vertical launch missile, Tomahawk cruise missile, six MK-46 torpedoes, two MK 45 5-inch/.54-caliber guns, two Phalanx close-in-weapons systems


Aircraft: Two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters


Source: U.S. Navy


Rear Adm. Joe Walsh, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told reporters yesterday that after lightening the load, the salvage ship USNS Salvor and the Motor Vessel Dove were able at 2:40 a.m. yesterday to pull the $1 billion warship off the shoal where it had been lodged since Thursday night.

Walsh said lines from the Salvor and the Dove were attached to the Port Royal's stern.

Four Navy and three civilian tugboats were aligned on either side of the 567-foot cruiser to assist in the tow, which was timed to take advantage of yesterday morning's high tide.

Walsh said it took about 40 minutes to free the 15-year-old cruiser, which was stuck in about 22 feet of water.

Initial assessment disclosed that a rubber dome that houses the sonar under the bow of the Port Royal may have been cracked.

Sensors indicate that water entered the dome, Walsh said. The tips of the Port Royal's two propellers also were sheared off.

Walsh said the cruiser was “;structurally sound”; and that damage was limited to the hull. None of the sophisticated Aegis combat radar and missile systems were affected, he said.

;[Preview] Navy Warship Finally Freed

An investigation is underway into what caused a billion dollar ship to run aground in Hawaiian waters.

Watch ]


Speaking in front of the Port Royal at Pearl Harbor, Walsh said the cruiser will be moved to the shipyard by the end of week and placed in dry dock. It had left dry dock on Jan. 6 and spent another month in the shipyard to complete an $18 million renovation and repainting job. There was no evidence of any major damage to the port side of the ship above the waterline.

Walsh was not able to estimate the cost to repair the Port Royal or how long an investigation into the grounding would take. The ship had just finished its first day of sea trials and was offloading sailors, contractors and civilian shipyard personnel to a small boat when it ran aground.

Yesterday, Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, temporarily relieved Capt. John Carroll as the Port Royal's commanding officer pending the results of the investigation to determine the cause of the ship's grounding.

Smith made a special trip to the cruiser Friday and spent the weekend on the Port Royal directing the operations.

Carroll assumed command of the Port Royal in October.

Capt. John T. Lauer III, who is assigned to the staff of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, has been temporarily assigned as the ship's commanding officer.

Walsh said he was “;very, very satisfied”; with how the operation had been conducted and that the Navy started with attempts Friday to pull the Port Royal using just two harbor tugs. Two larger ships with greater towing capacity were later brought in.

Eventually, success was achieved after half of the 320 crew members and more than 500 tons of sea water used as ballast and another 40 tons comprising two anchors, anchor chains and other equipment were taken off the cruiser.

Walsh said the Navy was to return to the site, about a half-mile south of Honolulu Airport, to retrieve the anchors and anchor chains and then determine whether damage was caused to the ocean bottom.

Joining in the site assessment will be representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Health and Land departments.

Yesterday an aerial survey of the grounding site showed a sheen of marine diesel fuel about 1.5 miles long and 100 yards wide. However, “;it is not clear if the fuel is from the Port Royal or one of the nine other vessels used in the response,”; Walsh said.

“;There is no threat to the coastline or marine life from the sheen.”;

He said the oil spill recovery vessel Clean Islands will remain next to the sheen until it burns away.

The refloating of the Port Royal occurred on the eighth anniversary of the collision of the Ehime Maru with the nuclear submarine USS Greeneville. On Feb. 9, 2001, the Greeneville performed an emergency surfacing movement 10 miles south of Diamond Head and collided with the Japanese training vessel. The Ehime Maru sank within minutes. Nine of its crew members, including four high school students, were killed.