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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CAPTAIN RELIEVED OF DUTY PENDING RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION
Navy ship damaged in stranding

Photo gallery: Port Royal press conference

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The USS Port Royal was moored at Pearl Harbor's "Mike 3" pier yesterday after spending four days stranded near Honolulu International Airport's reef runway. It was pulled free early yesterday morning, but the stranding damaged its propellers and sonar dome.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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The USS Port Royal had the tips of its two propeller blades sheared off, suffered damage to the sonar dome that extends beneath its bow and left 40 tons worth of anchors, anchor chains and other equipment on the ocean floor after being stuck for four days off Honolulu Airport's reef runway, the Navy said yesterday.

Capt. John Carroll, the commanding officer of the $1 billion guided missile cruiser, was temporarily relieved of his duties yesterday after the ship returned to its home port of Pearl Harbor.

The Navy will retrieve the Port Royal's anchors and other equipment. And Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walsh, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, repeated his pledge yesterday that the Navy would repair any possible damage to marine life caused by the grounding, but said the area appeared to be only rock and sand.

"It has been described to me as a sand rock bottom ... but it has the potential to sustain life is how it was described to me," Walsh told reporters yesterday.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources plans to meet today with representatives of the state Department of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to document the chain of events and work on restoring any possible damage.

Yesterday morning, the Coast Guard also spotted a mile-long, 100-yard-wide sheen of marine diesel fuel near the reef runway hours after the Port Royal was finally refloated on its fourth attempt.

Pollution investigators aboard Coast Guard vessels said the thin layer of fuel burns off quickly in sunlight and posed no threat to the coastline or marine life.

The Coast Guard estimated that the sheen was the result of about 7 to 8 gallons of diesel fuel that spilled. But it was unclear whether the fuel was from the Port Royal or one of the nine other vessels including four Navy tugs and three civilian tugs that worked to get the ship back into open water.

Yesterday, the Port Royal sat tethered to Pearl Harbor's "Mike 3" pier as Navy divers ran a remotely operated vehicle underneath it looking for other signs of damage.

The ship had spent four months in drydock and had just completed its first day of sea trials when it ran aground in 17 to 22 feet of water around 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

The usual path in and out of Pearl Harbor typically runs at a maximum depth of 42 feet, the Navy said. The "navigational draft" for the Port Royal is 33 feet, the Navy said.

The Port Royal and its crew of 324 sailors and officers were off-loading sailors, civilian contractors and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard personnel onto small boats when it ran aground just 'ewa of a spot known to harbor pilots as "Navy Anchorage," where American fighting ships anchor and train.

The 9,600-ton, 567-foot warship became lodged from bow to stern on its port side and had been listing starboard, often buffeted by pounding surf since Thursday night.

It will return to drydock at the end of this week for repairs, Adm. Walsh said. He could not provide an estimate on the cost of the damage, or the cost to refloat the Port Royal.

"Obviously we are just very pleased that the ship did come free last night," Walsh said.

Navy officials had hoped to free the Port Royal on their third attempt early Sunday morning but rough seas prevented them from off-loading 200 tons of fuel and water.

Instead, the Navy decided to rid the Port Royal of 600 tons of weight which included hundreds of tons of seawater ballast, 40 tons worth of anchors, anchor chains and other equipment and about 15 tons worth of sailors and finally lightened the Port Royal enough to pull it backward from its perch around 2:40 a.m. yesterday.

The loss of the Port Royal's seawater ballast and tons of other usual weight were evident yesterday because a layer of protective, blue Teflon paint that normally sits below the water line rode several feet above the surface.

Capt. John Lauer III, who is assigned to the staff of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, yesterday was temporarily assigned as the Port Royal's commanding officer, replacing Capt. Carroll.

Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, ordered Carroll temporarily relieved of command pending the results of an investigation into the grounding.

The Port Royal was commissioned on July 9, 1994, and is considered one of the Navy's most advanced ships. It's equipped with Aegis ballistic missile tracking technology and can fire interceptors into space to shoot down missiles.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.