Navy Works to Free "Beached" Ship

Monday, Feb 9, 2009  |  Updated 3:00 AM PDT
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Navy Works to Free "Beached" Ship

AP

The USS Port Royal, right, a Navy guided missile cruiser, sits grounded atop a reef about a half-mile south of the Honolulu airport's reef runway. Crews will try again Monday to free it from its shallow resting place.

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HONOLULU  — The Navy plans to remove 800 tons of water from a warship that ran aground off the coast of Honolulu before again trying to free the ship.

The Navy hopes the lighter load will help it pull the USS Port Royal to safety. Several attempts to free the $1 billion cruiser have failed since it got stuck on a rock and sand shoal Thursday.

The Pearl Harbor-based Port Royal, one of the Navy's most advanced ships, is capable of firing interceptors into space to shoot down missiles. It's also equipped with Aegis ballistic missile tracking technology.

The vessel is currently lodged just off Honolulu International Airport, visible to all those flying in and out of Oahu. It's also in clear view of a nearby public beach park and a famous local bar, La Mariana Sailing Club.

Rear Adm. Joe Walsh, U.S. Pacific Fleet deputy commander, says the Navy will try again early Monday, at the next high tide.

"At this time, no one has been hurt, the ship remains structurally sound, and no fuel or other contaminants has been released to the environment," Walsh told reporters at a Pearl Harbor pier.

A fuel spill response vessel is on standby at the scene just in case fuel leaks, however.

The water the Navy plans to unload is seawater the Port Royal has taken on to replace the weight of burned fuel. It helps balance the ship. The Navy also plans to unload about 40 tons' worth of anchors and anchor chains.

The rescue effort will enlist the help of one more civilian tugboat, adding to the efforts of four Navy and three commercial tugboats that tried to yank the ship loose Sunday.

The Navy plans to unload fuel if the Port Royal still won't move. The next step, if that's also unsuccessful, would be to consider dredging a channel behind the vessel through which the Navy would pull the ship back out to sea, Walsh said.

One reason Sunday's attempt may have failed, despite four hours of pulling, is that the Navy wasn't able to lighten the Port Royal by offloading fuel as planned.

That's because waves kept hitting the vessel that was to receive the fuel, and there was a risk the vessels would be damaged.

The ship ran aground while offloading sailors, contractors and shipyard personnel Thursday night following its first day of sea trials. It had just wrapped up a four-month routine maintenance stay at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

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