Navy hopes third try a charm for stuck ship


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Navy was to make a third attempt this morning to refloat a 9,600-ton Pearl Harbor warship that ran aground Thursday night.

;[Preview] Navy Warship Remains Stuck Off Hawaii Reef

A second attempt to dislodge the navy vessel, USS Port Royal, failed.

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This time, the USS Port Royal will be about 215 tons lighter. The Navy removed some of the 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel yesterday and half of the 360 crew members, said Terri Kojima, a Navy spokeswoman.

A lighter Port Royal, combined with a peak high tide and the pulling power of an oceangoing tug, some smaller harbor tugs and the salvage ship Salvor, should do the trick when a third effort was to be made to free the ship at around 3:25 a.m., Rear Adm. Joseph Walsh, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said yesterday at a news conference.

“;The issue becomes one of how much weight is on the ship versus our ability to pull that weight off of the reef,”; Walsh said.

Two previous attempts, yesterday and Friday, were unsuccessful.

The USS Port Royal, a $1 billion guided-missile cruiser, had just ended a four-month routine maintenance visit to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and was finishing the first day of sea trials when it ran aground at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Walsh said the ship is structurally sound and that there has been no leaks of fuel, oil, or other contaminants. But an underwater rubber encasement that surrounds sonar equipment at the bow may be taking in water.

Coast Guard Lt. John Titchen said a Coast Guard HH-65 dolphin helicopter is flying over periodically look for oil sheen on the water.

“;We're confident the Navy is doing everything it can (to protect the environment),”; he said.

The Hawaii Responder, an oil spill response vessel, is also on standby, prepared to surround the ship with a boom if it starts leaking fuel.

The ship was in its normal spot for transferring crew members off the ship at about 8 p.m. Thursday night when it went aground, Walsh said.

The Port Royal wound up in about 22 feet of water, aground along the length of her port (left) side on a bed of sand and rock of the type that was used to construct one of the nearby airport's runways, Walsh said.

Walsh noted that the shoal was known to the Navy. “;Clearly, the ship is not where the ship should have been. The investigation will determine exactly why the ship got to the point where she was in shoal water,”; Walsh said.

The shoal does not appear to be a live reef, Walsh said. Navy and other officials will inspect the area once the ship is freed.

Kojima said the cause of the accident, damage to the ship and possible discipline for the captain and crew will be assessed after the vessel is removed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.