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1,000 More Civilians File Claims Against Navy Over Red Hill Fuel Spill

Red Hill

Published Jun 21, 2023 5:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy faces another raft of civil claims in connection with water contamination from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage tank farm at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

The Red Hill site was a unique Navy asset. Between 1940-43, the then-Department of War carved 20 giant tanks out of a basalt ridge outside Honolulu. The site was capable of holding up to 250 million gallons of fuel in reserve in case the Navy needed to cross the vast expanse of the Pacific. The Navy used this strategic capacity during WWII, and until last year, the Red Hill tanks stood ready in case the need should arise again. However, in 2022, a chain of human errors led to a release of jet fuel from a drainage line, contaminating a water well that supplies about 93,000 military servicemembers and civilians at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Thousands were forced to leave their homes and relocate temporarily due to fuel in their water supply. 

On Monday, more than 1,000 more family members and civilians from the base filed administrative claims to seek damages from the Navy. They claim that they were exposed to jet fuel in their drinking water during two spill events last year, one in May and another in November, and many claim ongoing health effects from the exposure. According to Navy Times, the new filings bring the total to nearly 1,500 claims in connection to the spill. If the Navy denies the administrative claims, the plaintiffs can join a federal civil lawsuit to seek relief, lawyers for the families told the outlet. The attorneys expect to keep filing claims until the statute of limitations expires this November. 

Under heavy political pressure, the Pentagon decided last year that the Navy would defuel and close Red Hill, and that process is under way. The service has discovered about 250 deficiencies that will have to be fixed before it can be pumped out one last time, raising questions about how ready Red Hill had been for a real military operation before the spill forced it to shut down. 

The facility will be drained and the fuel offloaded onto merchant tankers, providing the Department of Defense with a mobile and distributed means of maintaining a strategic reserve. The charters are being awarded, and Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG) reported Monday that it has secured a charter for the tanker Overseas Mykonos to take on fuel from Red Hill and supply fuel transport services to Military Sealift Command.

"OSG’s fleet has supported the critical mission of the MSC for many years. We are honored that MSC has chosen to award one of the Red Hill contracts to the Overseas Mykonos. This ship and its crew have the capability to provide maritime transportation services using equipment and communication technologies that are in sync with the needs of the Department of Defense and Navy," said OSG CEO and President Sam Norton.