2 Navy Ships, Crew of 469, to Help Clean Up Oil Spill off Valdez

Times Staff Writer

Two Navy amphibious ships from San Diego are leaving soon for Alaska to help in the government’s cleanup of a giant crude oil spill in Prince William Sound off Valdez, it was announced Sunday.

The ships, along with 469 crew members and Marine Corps helicopter pilots from Tustin, are expected to arrive within a week and begin providing backup support to Coast Guard and Navy personnel already at the site of the 10-million gallon slick.

The landing platform dock Juneau and the landing ship dock Fort McHenry are scheduled to leave port Tuesday, steam for six days to Valdez and then continue deployment in Prince William Sound for two months.


“That’s what we’re shooting for,” said Cmdr. David (Matt) Dillon, a Navy spokesman.

“The spill itself is unusual and this effort is something of great magnitude. So the ability of our ships to provide this basic support is something that should be taken advantage of.”

Dillon said the ships will not directly participate in cleanup of the crude oil spilled three weeks ago when the tanker Exxon Valdez went aground.

But he said the crafts will support the work crews by anchoring off Valdez and ferrying equipment and personnel to and from shore by helicopter and small boat.

The ships also can provide food service, medical, communications and laundry facilities, which are limited in Valdez.

“I talked with the guys up in Valdez and there’s very, very little housing available for the cleanup crews,” Dillon said. “These ships can serve as floating hotels.”

Asked why the ships were being dispatched from San Diego’s 32nd Street Naval Station and not a closer port such as Seattle or Long Beach, Dillon said:

“They don’t have these kinds of ships anywhere else. San Diego is where these specific kinds of ships are. We have the capability of ballasting down and submerging the stern, and they need something that can stay up there like a floating port.”

The Juneau, with a crew of 457 and commanded by Capt. Theodore A. Willandt, can carry 840 troops, while the Fort McHenry, with a crew of 412 and commanded by Cmdr. George S. Rhodes, can accommodate up to 500 troops.

Along with providing billetting space, the ships also will handle other backup assistance for the work crews, Dillon said.

He said the ships are bringing with them 4,000 feet of oil containment boom, which works as a rubber floating fence to keep the spilled oil corralled. “Oil rises to the top of water, and then you try to contain it,” Dillon said.

In addition, eight small landing boats and five dracon bladders will be transported to Valdez. The dracon bladders are rubber fuel bags that can be used to store crude oil after it is scraped up.

“They use those when Marines hit a beach,” Dillon said. “You put them out on the beach and fill them full of fuel and they serve as portable fuel tanks.”

Also accompanying the two-ship convoy will be four helicopters from the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin.

Dillon said the ships’ officers and crew members will be making final preparations today for the detail.