"MythBusters" once used pingpong balls to float a sunken boat.
Refloating the mostly submerged fishing vessel Judy K, which went down Jan. 12 at Pier 16 in Honolulu Harbor, hasn’t been as easy for the state.
Two separate commercial bid solicitations came in between $130,000 and $190,000, "which were considerably higher than estimates," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara.
Now the state has turned to Army divers, who will conduct a preliminary assessment starting Tuesday to determine whether the 77-foot vessel can be refloated at a later date.
Divers from the 7th Dive Detachment, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, will inspect "refloat-related details such as hull composition, potential lift points and structural integrity," the Army said.
"Army divers have worked with state and local government in Hawaii in the past for underwater maintenance projects and in this case they were requested by the Hawaii Department of Transportation Harbors Division," the service said.
The assessment and potential salvage "provide a training opportunity for the divers and can be balanced against their mandated mission set," according to the Army.
More than five months after the abandoned Judy K sank and spilled an estimated 150 gallons of diesel fuel into Honolulu Harbor, the vessel remains mostly underwater and blocking one side of Pier 16.
The owner was believed to be dead, so the state was left to deal with the sunken boat.
"It sounds like it’s a pretty simple fix, and yet when we put it out to bid twice with private contractors, it came in significantly higher than estimates," Sakahara said. "And we didn’t want to basically spend that much money."
He added, "The Hawaii Department of Transportation thanks the U.S. Army for lending its valuable services to the people of Hawaii and working to save the state tens of thousands of dollars."
The vessel remains a harbor eyesore visible from Nimitz Highway, but Sakahara said it’s not causing any environmental harm or problems for commerce by impeding ship traffic.
If the Army can refloat the Judy K, the plan would be to tow it to a dry dock and have it scrapped, Sakahara said.
"We’re hoping that another agency will help us out" with the towing, he said.
Sakahara didn’t specify another agency, but the Coast Guard is based nearby.
The Judy K, built in 1979 with a gross tonnage of 83 tons, was listed as belonging to a company known as Sapphire USA Inc. But the company’s business registration has been expired since 1999, according to state records.
The Coast Guard and Harbors Division responded to the diesel spill after the boat was reported sinking Jan. 11. No fishing equipment was aboard. About 150 feet of boom and absorbent pads were put in place to contain and collect fuel from the vessel.
Star-Advertiser staff writer Timothy Hurley contributed to this report.