Guam – The combination of open hatches and high surf are being blamed for the partial sinking of Guam Shipyard’s dry dock Sunday night.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon the U.S. Coast Guard and Guam Shipyard President Mathews Pothen explained what they think caused the mishap and what they’re doing to prevent the threat of environmental damage to Apra Harbor.
The National Weather Service issued its High Surf Advisory last Saturday warning that dangerously high surf would begin effecting Guam by Sunday morning. By Sunday night surf on north facing coasts was well above 10 feet. And inside Apra Harbor waves are thought to have reached beyond 5 feet, high enough to breach the deck of the 36 year old “big blue” which was undergoing scheduled repairs last week and workers had left the hatches on it open.
Guam Shipyard President Pothen acknowledged that if the hatches had been closed, the dry dock known as “Big Blue,” would not have partially sunk. He said in the future, after the dry dock has been resurected, those hatches would remain closed when high surf threatens or the dry dock is not in use.
Beyond the cause of the accident, and the safety of the workers involved in salvaging the dry dock, Coast Guard Captain Sparks said they are concerned about the potential of oil products leaking from the partially submerged dry dock.
“Big Blue” is capable of holding 83-thousand gallons of oil and fuel, but at this point, they believe that only 13-thousand gallons of diesel fuel and 2 thousand gallons of waste oil are on board, although they may discover more later.
The Coast Guard and Guam EPA are working with Guam Shipyard to remove the oil products before any of it gets into the water. Booms have been placed around the dry dock and the process of removing the oil began today. However Pothen said that “a minor oil sheen” was spotted in the water Monday. But Captain Sparks suspects that sheen came from oil on the decks, and not from a leak in the dry docks fuel or oil storage tanks.
The accident also raises questions about Guam Shipyard’s hope to continue leasing the property from the Navy which has solicited expressions of interest from various companies including Guam shipyard. Pothen said that he expects the dry dock will be afloat again and working in the next 15 days and he does not think the mishap will have an impact on his effort to win the bid to continuing operating a ship repair facility on the property.
Pothen declined to speculate on what the repairs and mitigation effort would cost his company.