US Demands Tug After Costly Harbor Mishap
by Nicholas Fillmore, Court House News, June 27, 2016
HONOLULU (CN) - The Justice Department has demanded the arrest, condemnation and sale of the tugboat Maulani, which snagged an undersea cable in Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and shut down the Electronic Harbor Security System and four security cameras "integral to the security of the harbor."
The suit filed in Federal Court last week says that on July 12, 2013, the Maulani and four smaller tugs were towing the sea-based early-warning radar station SBX-1 back into harbor. The Maulani's master diverged from the voyage plan and caused her tow gear to hit bottom, according to the government's 9-page complaint.
The SBX-1 master and a harbor pilot from Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam could only watch, with the SBX-1's propulsion gear retracted in shallow water and the station wholly under the power of the Maulani and her helper tugs.
According to the complaint, the first half of the operation went according to plan. The SBX-1 was steady in Pearl Harbor's north channel, and the master of the Maulani slowed the tug to shorten the towline length from 1,400 to 220 feet.
However, the Justice Department says the master slowed his vessel a second time, causing the towline to slacken and sink. The weight of the slackened towline in turn caused the Maulani to come to a complete stop and drift astern, which again increased the slack and depth of the towline.
Seeing this state of affairs, the two tugs positioned astern of SBX-1 attempted to pull back to counteract the slackening of the towline and prevent it from bottoming out.
The Maulani retracted the tow cable and began making headway too late to prevent the tow gear from hitting bottom, where a "charted, well known cable bed" lay, according to the government.
"At approximately the same time the Maulani slowed for a second time and came to a halt, all input was lost throughout the Electronic Harbor Security System," the complaint says.
Damage to the undersea cables has cost the government about $591,668 — a figure likely to increase by another $768,925, the complaint says. The damage was "caused by the fault and negligence of the defendants," according to the complaint.
The U.S. Navy has not responded to questions about towing protocol or damage to the security system at Pearl Harbor.
The complaint states that a voyage plan was prepared by Maulani's owners at the time, Hawaiian Tug & Barge, outlining each step of the operation and reviewed at a meeting of all parties the morning of the operation.
Neither Foss Maritime Company of Seattle, current owner of Tug Maulani and co-defendants in the suit, nor Hawaii Tug & Barge responded to requests for comment by press time.
The SBX-1 was returning from a deployment to waters off North Korea to monitor that nation's restart of nuclear facilities and four consecutive short range missile launches. It has mostly sat idly at Pearl Harbor since.
Part of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system envisioned by the Pentagon, the SBX's mobility allows it to be stationed in areas requiring enhanced missile defense.
Because of the earth's curvature, radar operates effectively only at close range.
In the event of a limited attack by an upstart like North Korea or Iran, the SBX-1 would theoretically be able to spot incoming missiles, track them through space and guide interceptor rockets launched from silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Ft. Greely, Alaska. Second-stage heat-seeking "kill vehicles" would then separate from booster rockets and destroy the missiles.
The SBX-1 failed during a simulation of a North Korean missile launch in 2010, and received a $27 million upgrade in 2011. Subsequent test had some success.
In total, $2.2 billion has been spent on the SBX to date.
The project was sold to Congress on the promise that it would be able to track a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country with its X-band radar.
Despite its ability to magnify objects, its detractors fault it as having a narrow field of vision and therefore ill-equipped to carry out its main objective, which is to discriminate warheads from a cluster of decoys.
The SBX-1 is slated to be installed in Alaska in 2020, as part of a land-based missile defense system.
PDF: US v Tug