Thursday, February 12, 2009

USS Port Royal Returns to Homeport

PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- The guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) returned to its homeport Feb. 9 after being freed from shoal waters off Honolulu Airport. An investigation has begun into the cause of the grounding of the ship that occurred Feb. 5.

Pending results of the investigation, the ship's commanding officer, Capt. John Carroll, was temporarily relieved by Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. Smith temporarily assigned Capt. John T. Lauer III, of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific staff, as commanding officer.

Smith went aboard the ship the day after it grounded.

The Navy undertook three major efforts to free Port Royal and achieved success after removing about 600 tons of seawater, anchors and other weight.

Rear Adm. Joseph A. Walsh, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, kept the media informed throughout the weekend and held another press conference pierside shortly after Port Royal's return to Pearl Harbor.

"As I've said since the onset of this incident, our top priorities have been the safety of the crew, the safety of the ship and the safety of the environment," Walsh said. "To those priorities, no one was injured either during the grounding or during the efforts to free the ship. Secondly, the ship remains structurally sound and is safely moored here in Pearl Harbor."

Walsh noted that there was no leakage of oil, just a light surface sheen in the area. Coast Guard over flights of the area, including at first light after the ship was freed, revealed no pollution threat.

According to a Coast Guard news release, the sheen was marine diesel, a very thin fuel which burns off quickly in sunlight. "There is no threat to the coastline or marine life from the sheen," according to the Coast Guard release.

"The Navy, in coordination with the state, will conduct surveys in the area where the ship was grounded and develop a remediation plan if necessary," Walsh said.

The ship will be dry-docked to complete the damage assessment already begun by Navy divers and shipyard workers. A repair cost estimate has not yet been determined.

"I would like to extend the U.S. Navy's thanks and appreciation to the state of Hawaii, the United States Coast Guard and the Clean Islands Council for their help and cooperation during our efforts to free the ship," Walsh said.

"I would also like to commend the U.S. Navy men and women who worked day and night throughout the past three days to refloat the ship. Their professionalism and tenacity were key to our success."

The grounding occurred while the ship was transferring Sailors, contractors and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workers to shore, via small boat. There were no distinguished visitors or flag officers embarked at the time of the grounding. Reports to the contrary are erroneous.

USS Port Royal was commissioned on July 9, 1994.