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USS Port Royal deploys for first time since '09 grounding

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 11:51 a.m. HST, Jun 24, 2011


The cruiser USS Port Royal returned to sea for a seven-month deployment this morning following more than $40 million in repairs after running aground near the Honolulu Airport Reef runway two years ago.

Rear Admiral Dixon Smith,commander of  Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said that the Navy has moved on after the Feb. 25, 2009 grounding incident.

"I've put it behind me," Smith said. "We've moved forward. The ship has moved forward. It was an unfortunate incident that we all learned from."

Smith said only 10 percent of the 300 sailors who were on the ship when it ran aground, will be on the deployment.  The  deployment will take the 9,600-ton warship to the western Pacific and the Middle East.

Of the Port Royal's 30 officers, only one remains in the wardroom. All of the cruiser's 30 chief petty officers, the warship's core of senior enlisted sailors, have been replaced through the Navy's normal rotation procedure.

"This is a brand new crew," Smith said.

The warship was lodged on the reef for three days and had to be towed to Pearl Harbor after the incident that happened at dusk while the ship was transferring crew members to a smaller boat. The Port Royal had just completed an $18 million refurbishment and was on its first day of sea trials when it ran aground.

The Port Royal underwent more than $40 million in new repairs from the incident. Last year the Navy spent another $20 million to fix cracks discovered in the Port Royal's aluminums alloy superstructure.

It cost the Navy $6.5 million to restore the reef and the Navy also paid the state another $8.5 million in a settlement over the damages. In its restoration effort, the Navy reattached nearly 5,400 coral colonies.

About two dozen friends and family members were at Pearl Harbor's Mike pier -- which was the same dock the Port Royal returned to after the 2009 incident -- this morning.

Capt. Eric Weilenman now commands the Port Royal. He is the third Port Royal Skipper following the dismissal of Capt. John Carroll who was in charge of the warship at the time of the grounding. Three other officers and a sailor received nonjudicial punishment.

The Navy's Safety Investigation Board found several factors contributed to the grounding, including an apparent failure to recalibrate navigation equipment within a period of 72 hours.

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