Judge Bars Underwater Explosions for Testing : Channel Islands: Federal court injunction temporarily blocks Navy detonations over fears of harm to marine life.


A federal court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the detonation of underwater explosives to test ship-hull strength west of the Channel Islands after ruling that the blasts would irreparably harm marine life in the area.

U.S. Dist. Judge Stephen V. Wilson in Los Angeles granted a preliminary injunction to stop testing until the case is decided as a whole at civil trial later this year.

The judge concluded in a written decision that “plaintiffs have shown a near-certain likelihood of prevailing in their claims” that the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service violated federal law in approving the tests.


“The judge has decided to uphold environmental laws in the face of the Navy’s wish to conduct these tests in the worst possible ecological area in the continental United States,” said Richard Kendall, lead attorney for five environmental groups that sued to block the tests.

The Navy will appeal the decision, according to a statement released late Tuesday.

“The Navy is gravely concerned that today’s ruling will send U.S. Navy ships to sea without testing (that) will maximize their ability to survive combat,” the statement read.

Testing was scheduled to start this week about 20 miles off Navy-owned San Nicolas Island and about 85 miles southwest of the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station, where the tests were to be monitored.

Judge Wilson agreed with environmental attorneys, who argued that the Navy had filed no valid environmental report, had failed to examine alternate test sites and had not adequately protected marine mammals and other sea life.

Navy officials have acknowledged that the testing could result in the deaths of a small number of marine mammals, but have insisted that the tests are environmentally safe.

Navy officials say aerial surveys conducted in the test area during the last several months show there are relatively few marine mammals there.


But environmental groups allege that 22 species of marine mammals--including seals and sea lions--would be killed, injured or harassed by the tests.

The so-called ship-shock tests would involve the detonation of underwater explosives as large as 10,000 pounds each to determine the strength of the Navy’s new Aegis-class destroyers, their electronics equipment and overall crew survivability under simulated battle conditions.

The suit named the National Marine Fisheries Service for granting the Navy a permit for the tests, which could involve as many as 270 detonations over a five-year period.

The crux of the dispute is whether the tests should be conducted farther offshore in deeper waters, where the concentration of marine life is not so great.

Environmental groups want the Navy to move the tests--the first in the nation since 1991--from waters above an ocean cliff and as shallow as 1,800 feet to depths of up to 18,000 feet, Kendall said.

“We want them to go offshore into the 2,000- to 3,000-fathom range,” Kendall said, “away from the feeding areas of seals and sea lions and away from the body of nutrients concentrated on the Patton Escarpment.”


Maris Sidensteker, a marine biologist for plaintiff Save The Whales, declared Tuesday’s ruling “a victory for marine mammals.” Other plaintiffs were the Natural Resources Defense Council, which coordinated the legal challenge, the Humane Society of the United States, American Oceans Campaign and Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay.