The USS Port Royal (CG 73), the youngest cruiser in the fleet, went aground just outside Pearl Harbor Thursday night. This summarizes what is out there and available from open source and adding a few comments, just to get conversation started about this incident. Given Proceedings was sounding the alarm regarding surface warfare officer training as late as January’s outstanding issue, the matter is both timely and distressing.
But before we get started, let’s just take a moment to consider that an earlier Congress mandated that all future large surface combatants were to be nuclear powered. One can only imagine what would be happening now if the poor USS Port Royal was a nuclear-powered “CGN” instead of a conventional “CG”. Let’s just suggest Hawaii (and the Navy) would be worrying about more than an oil spill or the state of a coral reef! The prospect of a nuclear vessel grounding outside Pearl (or anywhere else) should enough to make any Navy person break into a cold sweat, so, as we move ahead, keep this incident in mind. Particularly when debating the CG(X) or the nuclear-powered DDGN-51 or while considering future Congressional demands for nuclear-powered amphibious vessels.
Here’s a summary:
Please keep in mind that these are from news reports, and that the facts are not yet established:
–Ship ran aground at about 8:30-9:00 PM Thursday. (actual time aground vs. the time the incident was reported may…change.)
–Vessel appears to be stuck in about 17-22 feet of water; minimum draft is 33 feet. Note the draft of an FFG, the captain’s prior command, is about 22 feet (See below). Also, note that the attending salvage vessel, the USS Salvor (T-ARS 52), has a draft of…16ft, 9 inches. Just imagine having to rescue the rescuers…
–Next attempt to free the ship will take place very soon. Tow lines broke during prior attempts to free the vessel. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating come morning.
Please keep in mind you can take this or leave it.
–The USS Port Royal was undergoing the first day of what were to be several days of post-maintenance sea trials. Which took months to complete and were $18 million dollars over budget. Interestingly, this was a two-ship, one dry-dock project; the USS Crommelin (FFG 37) went into drydock alongside. If the grounding was due to some sort of engineering casualty, might the pressure to free up the USS Crommelin sped up the maintenance on the USS Port Royal?
–Ship was conducting some sort of personnel transfer to a smaller boat. Could doing this just off the harbor have distracted the commander? Is this normal practice for a new skipper?
“Officials said the guided missile cruiser left port yesterday for several days of sea trials after leaving drydock about a month ago for routine maintenance. Shore-based Navy officials were being transferred to Hickam harbor by small boat when the grounding occurred, the Navy said.”
–Ship was moving very slowly or dead in the water at the time of the grounding (from video). Why? Engineering casualty or a consequence of the small boat operations?
–Navy may wait for more help to arrive. Help from where? With only four salvage assets (two based East Coast, one in Japan and one in Hawaii) apparently even the luck of having a salvage asset nearby was not enough to guarantee a quick recovery. So…What else is available? What local commercial salvors could help? What are these “resources” you speak of, Captain?
“We’re certainly working on bringing to bear the resources we have to move her off the current position. We’re still putting that plan together,” Navy Capt. W. Scott Gureck, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said this morning. “Obviously, the high tide gives us an opportunity to do that.”
–The poor Captain (photo below) is new, and…his last time skippering a vessel (a Frigate with a draft of 22 feet, ahem..note grounding depth..) was from 2002-2004. Given the maintenance–which started in mid-October and only recently completed–was this one of the first times Captain John Carroll had operated his vessel underway? Was offloading just offshore–presumably under the eye of superiors–a wise task for a new skipper to undertake? What was he doing, at dusk, off a harbor entrance? Isn’t that kind of an odd time to put a new skipper in an unfamiliar platform into harm’s way? My prior comments about Surface Warfare Officer training still stand:
“The Port Royal has been under the command of Capt. John Carroll since October. Carroll commanded the frigate Rodney M. Davis out of Everett, Wash., in 2002, and deployed to the Arabian Gulf as part of the Nimitz strike group in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
He was the reactor officer on the aircraft carrier George Washington, and more recently graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Officials said the crew was still aboard, along with other Navy officials, including Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.”
And here’s some extra information that makes for good copy:
Again, you can take it or leave it. Up to you!
–Even worse for Captain Carroll, Navy CNO Admiral Roughead was a past skipper of the USS Port Royal:
While he was in command, Port Royal was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation and received the Golden Anchor Award for excellence in retention and crew support programs.
–And yes, other vessels have run aground at Pearl Harbor. Even nuclear ones. Here’s Admiral James Holloway III, in his memoir Aircraft Carriers At War, recalling his 1966 experience docking the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) at the Ford Island ammunition pier (after having taken over the con from a drunk harbor pilot):
…One year later the Enterprise, under command of its next captain, ran aground attempting to moor at the ammunition pier. In his efforts to extricate the carrier, the ship’s engines were used at a high-power setting that sucked mud from the bottom into the ship’s condensers, fouling them to the extent the exhaust steam from the engine was not condensed into feed water. This loss of feed water to the boilers resulted in seven of the eight reactors scramming. A scram occurs when the reactor automatically shuts itself down because the reactor instrumentation perceives an emergency situation that could cause a nuclear accident…
So…even if this whole situation looks grim, let’s just be glad it wasn’t worse. Or isn’t worse…yet. Let’s hope this thing gets unstuck tonight!
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