Crew Faulted In Blaze On Carrier

Crew Faulted In Blaze On Carrier
October 8th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Crew Faulted In Blaze On Carrier

Crew Faulted In Blaze On Carrier
San Diego Union-Tribune
October 7, 2008
Report says oil was stored improperly
By Steve Liewer, Staff Writer
Navy investigators faulted at least two dozen crew members for a $70 million, “entirely preventable” fire aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington, according to a report from the Pacific Fleet command.
The Navy had revealed that the fire May 22 likely was started by unauthorized cigarette smoking that ignited hazardous liquids. The blaze injured 37 crew members, most of them firefighters who suffered heat exhaustion.
The final report said that about a month before the fire, the ship's chief engineer had found the barrels of flammable refrigerant compressor oil in an out-of-the-way compartment near the aft auxiliary boiler.
Although some of the oil was later turned in to the ship's hazardous materials section for safe storage, at least 115 gallons – about one-third of the total – remained in the room when the flames broke out.
The oil fueled the fire, said the report's lead investigator, Rear Adm. Frank Drennan, commander of the San Diego-based Naval Mine and Antisubmarine Warfare Command. The Navy provided its report to The San Diego Union-Tribune under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
At least 12 cigarette butts were found in the inlet to an exhaust fan that led into the space where the oil was stored improperly.
The report also spotlighted an erratic response by the George Washington's damage-control team, which took nearly eight hours to discover the source of the smoke and flames. By that time, it had spread to eight decks and 80 compartments and destroyed miles of electrical and fiber-optic cables.
The damage-control department had been found deficient in three inspections between June 2007 and April. While the carrier's commander and executive officer started a program to beef up the team's training and performance in the month before the fire, the report concluded those efforts were too little, too late.
Both were relieved of duty July 30 at the direction of Adm. Robert Willard, the Pacific Fleet commander, and reassigned to other jobs.
“It is apparent from this extensive study that there were numerous processes and procedures related to fire prevention and readiness and training that were not properly functioning,” Willard wrote in an attachment to the report.
“The extent of damage,” he added, “could have been reduced had numerous longstanding firefighting and firefighting management deficiencies been corrected.”
Willard recommended disciplinary action against 11 officers and 12 enlisted sailors, most of them in the departments of engineering and hazardous materials.
Ultimately, Navy officials punished only six enlisted crew members, said Mark Matsunaga, a Pacific Fleet spokesman. Citing privacy restrictions, Matsunaga would not give the names, positions or ranks of those cited and wouldn't disclose the punishments.
Despite their criticisms, investigators praised the carrier's firefighters – especially several who rescued four sailors trapped in a room behind a wall of flames.
“Many crew members ... displayed courage and resolve in fighting the fires,” Willard said. “Their actions exemplify our Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
The effects of the fire have rippled from one end of the Pacific to another.
At the time of the blaze – which occurred as the George Washington cruised off the western coast of South America – the carrier was moving from its former home port of Norfolk, Va., to Yokosuka, Japan. The ship was slated to relieve the retiring Kitty Hawk as the only Navy aircraft carrier stationed in a foreign port.
The shift had caused a stir in Japan because the George Washington is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a sensitive issue for many Japanese because of the United States' use of nuclear weapons against their country during World War II.
The Kitty Hawk is the Navy's last conventionally powered carrier. Leaders of both countries had spent years trying to soothe public fears over the permanent assignment of a nuclear-powered ship.
Anti-nuclear activists in Japan seized on the fire as a sign that safety procedures couldn't be trusted. Hundreds protested outside Yokosuka Naval Base in late September, when the carrier finally arrived in Japan.
The fire also forced the George Washington to undergo two months of expensive repairs in San Diego, delaying the handoff with the Kitty Hawk and separating crew members of both ships from their families for weeks longer than expected.

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