By Capt. Ayman Andrews, 7th Engineer Dive Det., 8th Theater Sustainment Command and MC2 Charles Oki, CNRH Public Affairs
Pearl Harbor, one of the Navy’s busiest ports, supports homeported and visiting ships and vessels with berthing, pier services, magnetic silencing and logistical support. Providing these essential services on a daily basis is no easy task, requiring a steady and intensive maintenance and repair plan to continue operations.
Decay of waterfront structures, particularly the piers, can be a costly matter potentially resulting in the reduction of port capacity until repairs can be completed.
Over the past month Commander, Navy Region Hawaii (CNRH), enlisted the support of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii (NAVFAC HI), Navy Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 (CMBU-303), and the Army 7th Engineer Dive Det. to remove curb and fender piles, and replace hardware on multiple hydropneumatic fenders along the Kilo Piers.
CNRH Port Operations brought together this joint team, composed of vessel operators, NAVFAC HI Engineers, Seabees and Army Engineer Divers in order to tackle this large underwater and pierside construction project.
To simplify this complex project, it was broken up into five phases: planning and inspection, timber pile clearance, pile disposal, hydropneumatic fender repair and quality insurance inspections. Once CNRH and NAVFAC HI had completed the permitting and finalized coordination for vessel, crane and construction support, the project was handed over to the Army Engineer Divers for the inspection.
The divers identified more than 100 timber piles along Kilo Pier requiring removal and disposal, as well as nine hydropneumatic fenders requiring hardware replacement to render the pier safe for ship and submarine berthing. The project was projected to take 3-4 weeks to complete in total.
“This is the culmination of a months’ worth of coordination to help ensure the safe usage of Kilo Pier,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Smith, CNRH deputy port operations officer. "By coordinating with local units, the pier will be free of hazards and able to support increased harbor capacity while saving the government an estimated 2 million dollars if we were to contract this out.”
The fenders along Kilo Pier, mainly composed of timber piles, were originally intended to cushion the pier and the vessels from impact damage while moored in the harbor.
However, over time the timber piles deteriorated due to biological, physical, and chemical decay. If the timber piles were to break loose and protrude out or float away, this would create a hazard along the pier and in the harbor.
The Army divers developed a multi-faceted approach to remove the timber fenders along the pier in coordination with JBPHH port operations workboats.
"Having divers in the water enables the team to safely and expediently cut and rig up the piles for removal from the water,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew McDonald, operations NCO and first class diving supervisor, 7th Engineer Dive Det.
"All we need to do after the piles are rigged on the surface is deploy divers in the water to see if the pile is decayed enough to be removed with the force of the tugboat, if not, send them down with an underwater chainsaw to cut them into more manageable pieces."
"If they had decided to tie them off from the surface, it could cause the piles to break just below the waterline and make it harder to see and remove them, so having us here really streamlined the process,” McDonald added.
Upon removing the piles from the harbor, Seabees from CMBU-303 assisted with ensuring the 30-40 foot long woodpiles have sufficiently dried out before cutting them down to manageable sizes, with NAVFAC HI ensuring the chemically treated piles were discarded at local waste processing facilities.
"Being here in Pearl Harbor to meet the mission and actually help out when and where we're needed to support the fleet is one the great things about being stationed here as a Seabee," said Senior Chief Constructionman Adam Binon, officer in charge, CBMU 303 Det. Pearl Harbor. "It's great that we were able to bring all these different entities together to accomplish this mission."
Upon completion of the first three phases of the project, the 7th Engineer Dive Det. then moved onto the hydropneumatic fender repairs, led by Staff Sgt. Fred Bible, first class diver. The Army divers, again with the assistance of CNRH workboats, worked to inspect and replace the chain and shackle assemblies on nine of the fenders.
The process began with an inspection of each fender to determine the safest and most effective solution to conduct the repair. The team built bridle systems around the 25,000-pound counterweight, to which come-a-longs were attached to the fender in order to release tension between the two, allowing the diver to replace the connections, before re-inflating the fender to its original position. The repair of these fenders allows for the safe mooring of submarines in Pearl Harbor without damage to their hulls.
Rounding out the project, the Army divers conducted quality assurance dives along Kilo Pier to confirm that all timber piles were safely removed and all fenders were repaired successfully.
"Our Detachment’s mission is to conduct diving operations in a maritime environment in support of combat, general, geospatial engineering and defense support of civil authorities (DSCA)," says SFC Andrew Miltenberger, a 7th Engineer Dive Detachment master diver. "The opportunity to execute a project with Navy Seabees and boat operators in support of a real-world project in the best way to train. We are proud to support our partners at Navy Region Hawaii and look forward to executing future projects in Pearl Harbor."
At the end of the day, the joint team accomplished their mission within five weeks. The week delay was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the team to postpone operations for a week in order to ensure the project risks were reassessed and proper mitigation procedures were put in place. Port operations in Pearl Harbor play an essential role in the movement of personnel, equipment, and supplies for the military and local civil support operations. Ultimately, this joint project assured continued logistical agility and enhanced freedom of maneuver in the port for U.S. and partner forces.