The tugboat Hoga has been berthed north of San Francisco since 1996, when it was retired as the fireboat for the city of Oakland.

Historic tug’s fans
battle over final berth

The boat weathered the 1941
attack but may not return to Pearl

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Navy has rejected several sites at Pearl Harbor where a local group wanted to berth the last surviving vessel of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack: the tugboat Hoga.

But Dave Ford, president of the Tugboat Hoga Preservation Society, vows to keep up the battle. "I know the situation is impossible ... but it's a no-brainer. It's almost a sacrilege because the boat is a Pearl Harbor survivor and belongs there."

Ford is working against a June 13 deadline set by the Navy to receive applications that will determine the fate of the 63-year-old vessel. So far, only a Florida group has submitted a formal application to the Navy.

Promoters of former President Bill Clinton's library being built in Arkansas have expressed an interest in the Hoga as a way to draw tourists to the Little Rock site.

In Florida, Gina Silvestri, a south Florida boat dealer, said she has been trying for three years to raise the $1.5 million to tow the 99-foot tugboat from Northern California and keep it afloat in Fort Lauderdale. She said the final application from her USS Hoga YT-146 Association was sent to the Navy May 22.

"We are still in need of funding," Silvestri told the Star-Bulletin this week. "We are starting to believe that the only moneys out there are for the victims of the 9/11 tragedy."

Silvestri said she has had one major donor who gave $68,000 in Dupont stock and another $350,000 in a grant.

"I want to sail her ... from San Francisco," said Silvestri, "and when she reaches Miami, to have survivors from Pearl Harbor join the crew on the last leg."

Ford has only raised $500 and says he will need $160,000 to complete the grant application and another $3 million to bring the Hoga here and prepare it as a tourist attraction.

The Navy has said those seeking a decommissioned naval vessel, like the Hoga, must show evidence of financing for the first five years of operation. Besides mooring, curatorial, financial and maintenance plans, the prospective recipient has to pay the costs of towing the vessel.

Ford's group had wanted to use areas near Halawa Landing or the site of the old Ford Island ferrying dock between the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Bowfin Museum.

But Agnes Tauyan, Navy spokeswoman, said Halawa Landing is not available because it is used as a truck inspection site.

The Navy also rejected releasing the old Ford Island ferry landing because it has been set aside to be used for commercial development to pay for the cost of building new military housing on Ford Island.

Ford said he has turned to Sen. Daniel Akaka for help in securing a site. Paul Cardus, a spokesman for Akaka, said his office is still waiting for a business plan from Ford's group before the senator decides what to do.

The Hoga, which means "fish" in Sioux, is berthed in the Navy's Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Suisun Bay north of San Francisco, where it was retired in 1996 after serving for five decades as a fireboat for the city of Oakland, Calif. It has been designated a national monument.

A model of the Hoga is on display at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center.

The first Friends of Hoga was started many years ago by Hawaii Kai resident Frank McHale, who had the support of the National Park Service. However, his association had problems when his fund-raising efforts clashed with the Navy League's campaign to bring the battleship Missouri to Pearl Harbor.

McHale was only able to raise $5,000, and some of that money eventually was used to build a case for the model.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Hoga went into service 10 minutes after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. For three hours the Hoga dodged bombs, bullets and torpedoes to help fight fires on the USS Arizona, minesweeper USS Oglala and USS Nevada.

The Hoga pulled the sinking battleship USS Nevada free when it went aground at Hospital Point. It moved the Nevada to the western side of the harbor's entrance, preventing it from blocking the narrow channel. The Hoga has a 4-foot-long, 6-inch-deep dent on the forward port quarter, which it received when it helped beach the Nevada.

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