The Navy has issued written reprimands to three retired military officers for their involvement in the spill of jet fuel into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water in 2021. However, no one has been fired, suspended, had their pay docked, or had their rank reduced as a result of the incident.
The fuel spill from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility has affected thousands of military families and continues to pose a threat to the purity of Honolulu’s water supply.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro has sent censure letters to the three rear admirals involved. He has also revoked personal military decorations awarded to several other high-ranking officers.
“Taking accountability is a step in restoring trust in our relationship with the community,” said Del Toro.
The Navy has stated that the spill was unacceptable and that they will continue to take action to identify and resolve the issue.
An investigation conducted by the Navy last year determined that a series of mistakes led to the fuel leaking into a well that supplied water to military housing and offices in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Around 6,000 people experienced symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and rashes as a result of the contamination.
The investigation found that operator error caused a pipe to rupture during the fuel transfer process on May 6, 2021. This led to 21,000 gallons of fuel spilling out. Most of the liquid entered a fire suppression line where it stayed for six months, causing the line to sag. On November 20, a cart collided with the drooping line, releasing an additional 20,000 gallons of fuel into a French drain and the drinking water well.
Despite the history of leaks, including a previous incident where 27,000 gallons seeped from one tank, the Navy had assured residents of Oahu that their water was safe.
The water contamination caused outrage among Hawaii’s residents, including veterans, environmentalists, Native Hawaiians, liberals, and conservatives.
Wayne Tanaka, the director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, called the reprimands “outrageous” given the extent of the damage done and the ongoing threat posed by the leak to an aquifer beneath the tanks.
After months of resistance, the military has finally agreed to drain the World War II-era tanks following an order from the state of Hawaii. Repairs have been made to the facility’s equipment to ensure the safe removal of the fuel, which is set to begin next month and expected to be completed by January 19.
The Navy has issued censure letters to three officers: Retired Rear Adm. Peter Stamatopoulos, who served as the commander of Naval Supply Systems Command during the spills, Retired Rear Adm. John Korka, who was the commander of the Navy Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, and Retired Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, who was the commander of Navy Region Hawaii during the November spill.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, has stated that true accountability for the disaster requires the Navy to address systemic command and control failures and a lack of attention to infrastructure. She highlighted the Navy’s investigation, which found a culture of complacency, a lack of critical thinking, and a failure to communicate in a timely manner as contributing factors to the spill.
Hirono, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, vowed to continue pushing the Navy for the necessary systemic changes.