HONOLULU - The Unified Command continues to monitor the 145-foot motor vessel Casitas that ran aground at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, 86 miles east southeast of Midway Atoll on July 2nd. Preparations are now underway to extract the Casitas from the reef with what is hoped to be minimal environmental damage.
Significant planning has been undertaken to ensure the safety of the people involved and to protect the ecological resources of the area. Pearl and Hermes Atoll is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is an important seabird and green sea turtle nesting ground, Hawaiian monk seal pupping site, home to endangered Laysan finches, and the site of more than 183,000 acres of coral reefs in Refuge and State of Hawaii waters.
In approving the extraction plan, the Unified Command members acknowledged the difficulties facing the operation, which are further complicated by its remote location. All parties agreed that it is important to make every effort to remove the Casitas before it further damages the reef ecosystem. Metallic debris promotes the growth of invasive algae species that can have devastating impacts on the coral reef community
The owner of the Casitas has contracted with American Marine Corporation to extract the ship from the reef. The American Contender and its 240-foot barge arrived at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge from Alaska on July 15. The barge will serve as the primary platform for the removal operations, in conjunction with the tugs American Contender and American Quest. The American Emerald arrived at Midway from Honolulu on Wednesday with a 140-foot barge carrying additional equipment for the extraction. A berthing vessel, the motor vessel Condor, arrived recently at Midway.
After repositioning the equipment on the 240-foot barge, the American Contender will depart for Pearl and Hermes Atoll to initiate phase three of the Unified Command’s operation plan. A detailed extraction plan emphasizes employing a combination of strategies to minimize damage to the coral reef.
The plan first calls for divers to complete an underwater survey to assess damage to the hull of the Casitas and to identify the best route for extraction. The American Marine workers plan to remove the sealed 55-gallon drums containing approximately 1,850 gallons of gasoline from the Casitas, as well as other materials such as the marine debris collected before the ship went aground.
The barge will be secured by six anchors, which will be positioned in sand channels to the extent possible. Lines will be attached to the Casitas so that it can be steadied. Patches will be applied to holes in the hull, and the water will be pumped out of the compartments in an attempt to restore buoyancy and refloat the ship. Once floating, the lines will be used to pull the Casitas off the reef.
The onsite representatives of the Coast Guard and owners, in consultation with the Unified Command, will assess whether the ship can be towed back to Honolulu by the American Quest. If that is not feasible, the Quest will attempt to tow it to an approved disposal site.