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Navy begins repair of reef and warship


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POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2009

Divers have begun the task of collecting, storing and relocating coral that was dislodged when a 9,600-ton warship ran aground off the reef runway in February.

Earlier in the week, a south swell postponed the initial attempts to lay grids on the ocean bottom to help divers with their salvage efforts.

Ten divers working for AECOM and Sea Engineering were hired by the Navy to collect surviving coral colonies a half-mile from the reef runway. The coral colonies were damaged when the $1 billion cruiser USS Port Royal got stuck on the reef Feb. 5.

The Navy said the dives will occur as long as weather permits until the salvage operations have been completed. The Coast Guard said there are no restrictions keeping civilians away from the area, which is about 300 to 500 yards in length. The depth where the Port Royal was stuck until Feb. 9 runs from 14 to 22 feet.

Once the loose coral is collected, divers and state biologists from the Department of Land and Natural Resources will store surviving colonies offshore.

The Navy said the cached coral will be re-attached later to live coral in the affected area using a mixture of Portland cement and epoxy or plaster of Paris.

The Navy also said that it has the parts at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to repair the 17-year-old warship. After the Port Royal was refloated, it was towed to Pearl Harbor, where it entered dry dock on Feb. 18.

The Navy said the cruiser's rudders and rudder stocks as well as propulsion shaft were tested and found satisfactory. The two tail propeller shafts need to be replaced. The cost of the repairs is expected to run as high as $40 million.

Capt. John Carroll, the Port Royal's skipper, was relieved of command and is assigned to a desk job at the Pacific Fleet, pending an investigation. The Navy has not confirmed any discipline for crew members standing watch when the ship ran aground while transferring personnel to a small boat.

Earlier in the week, Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walls, deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, said the Navy “;is aware that mid-May traditionally marks the beginning of the south swell season. Of course, that's not a hard and fast date; a lot depends on the actual conditions we encounter each day. We have moved forward as quickly as possible and will maximize our redemption efforts with the time available.”;

DLNR Director Laura Thielen added: “;The state appreciates the Navy's commitment to a timely response in regard to the removal of loose coral rubble, and is working cooperatively with them to ensure that further damage to the reef habitat is minimized. The potential onset of southerly summer swells in the next month or two, which could move such rubble and cause additional environmental damage, adds an element of urgency to this action that both parties recognize.”;

Neither the Navy nor the state has released cost estimates for restoration. However, Thielen in March wrote to Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the Navy's judge advocate general, that “;the state intends to seek both mitigation and restoration assistance from the U.S. Navy and damages for the loss of natural resources.”;

In March, an underwater survey by Navy contractors found that the 567-foot warship created 8,371 square yards of rubble.

The Navy plans to eventually remove the rubble using a lightweight clamshell or suction hoses. The rubble will be transferred to a barge and then moved to a state-approved location ashore.