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Ship-damaged reef mending, Navy says


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Navy will not stabilize more coral nor remove more rubble from a site where the $1 billion USS Port Royal ran aground in February because it believes the damaged area is recovering.

Navy and state Department of Land and Natural Resources divers suspended operations in June because of high summer surf. Up to that point the Navy had spent $7 million reattaching nearly 5,400 coral colonies and righting eight boulders. Contractors also removed 250 cubic yards of rubble the grounding created.

Because the state threatened legal action, the Navy has never said what caused the grounding, although there were reports that the ship's navigational equipment was broken. The state has said it still plans to file suit early next year.

The Navy spent $40 million to repair the 9,600-ton cruiser, which was in Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard's dry dock 4 for seven months before returning to the fleet Sept. 24. The Navy has not said when the cruiser and its crew of 300 sailors will be certified to return to sea duty.

Dry-dock crews from BAE Systems and the shipyard replaced the warship's sonar dome, reinstalled rudders and completed structural repairs to the ship's tanks, superstructure and underwater hull. The sonar dome under the bow was the most heavily damaged part of the vessel.

Four sections of shafting also were replaced, struts that support the propulsion shafts were realigned and the underwater hull was repainted blue.

The warship ran aground Feb. 5 in 14 to 22 feet of water about a half-mile from Honolulu Airport. Nine tugboats and ships pulled the ship off the reef on the fourth attempt Feb. 9.

The warship was transferring crew members to a smaller boat when the grounding occurred after its first day back at sea after a four-month, $18 million overhaul.

In a written statement, the Pacific Fleet said yesterday that most of the estimated 2,350 cubic yards of remaining rubble had been dispersed by waves and tides without any apparent further damage to the ecosystem. Marine biologists who did the assessment saw evidence of coralline algal growth, natural recovery which helps cement rubble in place, restoring life in the reef.

The Navy said marine biologists checked the rubble and assessed the reattached coral in August and September. Indications are that the initial stabilization was successful, the Navy said.

The Pacific Fleet statement said about 96 percent of reattached coral colonies encountered were still alive and in place. The remaining 4 percent is within the expected mortality rate of naturally occurring coral.

“;The results of the recent assessments are very encouraging,”; said Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, Pacific Fleet deputy commander. “;This, combined with Mother Nature's work during the summer months, has convinced the experts and us in the Navy that the best course is to let the environmentally impacted area continue to take care of itself. All signs indicate that is the responsible thing to do.”;

State Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Laura Thielen said in the statement, “;The state of Hawaii appreciates the effort that the Navy has put into stabilizing this damaged ecosystem. We look forward to a continuing constructive dialogue regarding long-term monitoring of this site, and other mitigation measures to offset the aggregate coral reef loss sustained during the grounding.”;

The Port Royal's skipper, Capt. John Carroll, was relieved of command and assigned a desk job. In June he received nonjudicial punishment for dereliction of duty and improper hazarding of a vessel. Three other officers and a sailor received nonjudicial punishment in the grounding.

Capt. John T. Lauer III was named on Feb. 11 to replace Carroll.