Divers, researchers return to USS Arizona to study decay
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser staff writer
Researchers and divers returned to the murky waters of Pearl Harbor yesterday to search for clues about how much longer the hull of the USS Arizona will hold together.
For the next two weeks, National Park Service officials and metal experts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will study the Arizona to try to answer the question of when it will eventually collapse and possibly unleash whatever remains of the million-plus gallons of oil that went down with it.
But the answer probably won't be known for years.
A special Navy cleanup crew, in the meantime, practices containing oil spills in Pearl Harbor every year. But so far the focus has been on protecting the Arizona memorial, rather than on planning for an environmental catastrophe that might originate from the wreckage, said Navy spokesman Bill Roome.
"We haven't simulated an exercise where the oil originated from the memorial, as far as I know," Roome said. "However, we are trained to respond to oil spills anywhere within Pearl Harbor."
Sailors from the On Scene Operations Team based at Ford Island, where the Arizona was berthed along "Battleship Row" when it was bombed, practice laying oil booms to contain any spills. The oil would later be skimmed from the surface of the water.
If a real spill should occur, Roome said, the team would also lay booms in several critical areas: at the mouth of Pearl Harbor to keep oil from entering the open ocean, around the nearby Waiawa and Honouliuli wetland areas that are home to four endangered bird species and around the Arizona.
The memorial, part of the National Park system, is a monument to the 1,177 sailors who died during the Japanese attack and a reminder of America's entry into World War II.
It is treated as a shrine by the few people allowed to dive on it.
"Obviously," Roome said, "we want to protect the Arizona."
Dan Nakaso can be reached by phone at 525-8085, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.