Mon, Feb 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US Navy continue to attempt to free US$1 billion cruiser

ON tHE ROCKS The 9,700-tonne warship ran aground on Thursday evening and efforts to free the cruiser on Friday and Saturday ended in failure

AP , HONOLULU, HAWAII

The US Navy offloaded fuel, water and personnel from a grounded US$1 billion guided missile cruiser so tugboats and a salvage ship could try again early yesterday morning to free it from a rock and sand shoal.

The USS Port Royal ran aground on Thursday evening, about 1km south of the Honolulu airport where it was visible from several vantage points on Oahu.

No one was injured and no oil or other contaminants have leaked, said representatives of the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as state officials.

At a press conference, Rear Admiral Joseph Walsh, deputy commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said the ship was structurally sound. But he added that a thick, underwater rubber encasement that surrounds sonar equipment at the bow has taken on seawater.

A barge received fuel and fresh water from the Port Royal on Saturday, which Walsh said should make the grounded vessel approximately 180 tonnes lighter. The 9,700-tonne warship would also be an additional 14 tonnes lighter because half the crew of 360 was on shore.

Another reason for moving half the crew was that the ship’s air conditioning was not functioning because the vent through which seawater is drawn to cool the system is blocked as the ship sits on the shoal, Walsh said.

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 have done the trick when a third effort was made to free the ship at around 3:25am yesterday, Walsh said.

“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 efforts on Friday and Saturday mornings using harbor tugs that tried to pull the ship backward and away from the shoal were unsuccessful.

The 15-year-old Port Royal 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 8:30pm on Thursday.

“The ship was maneuvering to off-load some of the sailors and some of the contractors and shipyard personnel, and she was in her normal spot for doing those types of small-boat transfers,” Walsh said.

He said later 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 Port Royal is sitting in about 7m of water, aground along the length of her port 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.

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