Navy Takes Off Fuel, Water, People to Lighten Missile Cruiser

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

The USS Port Royal ran aground on Thursday evening, about a half-mile 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 U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the ship is 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 200 tons lighter. The 9,600-ton warship will also be an additional 15 tons lighter because half the crew of 360 is 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 do the trick when a third effort is made to free the ship around 3:25 a.m. on Sunday, 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 8:30 p.m. 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 added 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 22 feet 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.