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After Another Spill at Red Hill, U.S. Navy Relieves Facility's CO

red hill tank
The interior of a tank at Red Hill (Hawaii Department of Health)

Published Apr 5, 2022 2:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

After another spill at the shuttered Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. Navy has removed the commanding officer of Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Pearl Harbor. The service cited "a loss of confidence in his ability to perform his duties."

FLC CO Capt. Albert Lee Hornyak has been relieved, and Rear Adm. Kristin Acquavella will be temporarily assigned as commanding officer while a replacement is identified. Hornyak served as the FLC commanding officer beginning in August 2021. He held the post during the Nov. 20-21 drain line leak that released 14,000-19,000 gallons of fuel and water into a service tunnel at Red Hill. The leak contaminated a water supply well, polluting the water source for more than 90,000 Navy and Army servicemembers and their families. 

The latest leak, first reported to the Navy on Friday, consisted of a release of about 30 gallons of fuel and water near two of the facility's giant underground storage tanks. The incident occurred during dewatering maintenance work, the service said in a statement. The spill has since been cleaned up, but it has added to the growing list of public concerns about environmental safety at the site. 

Following intense political pressure from Hawaii's congressional delegation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the closure of the Red Hill tank farm last month, preempting federal legislation that would have forced the same outcome if passed. In a statement, Austin said that the Navy will come up with a plan for defueling Red Hill by May 31 and complete the task within 12 months. "Then we will move to permanently close the Red Hill facility, including conducting any and all necessary environmental remediation around the facility," Austin said. "This is the right thing to do."

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility was a unique asset for Navy operations in the Pacific. Between 1940 and 1943, miners carved 20 giant tanks out of a solid basalt ridge outside Honolulu, then connected them by pipeline to the piers at Pearl Harbor. It is among the largest facilities of its kind, containing 250 million gallons of fuel needed to power the Navy across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The site's elevation provided gravity-assisted flow, and its underground location was designed to be hard to hit with the unguided weapons of the era. However, concerns about its age, the possibility of corrosion, and fuel spills from operational errors appear to have spelled its end.