VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — The Navy is disciplining nine sailors for their roles in a 94,000-gallon fuel spill that killed nearby wildlife, prompted families to temporarily leave their homes and cost the service $3.8 million to date, an official said Friday.
Rear Admiral Jack Scorby told reporters that punishments range from possible losses in rank and pay to referrals for a court martial. Citing privacy rules, he declined to name those involved. But Scorby said they include junior enlisted sailors as well as senior officers.
A civilian also faces potential action, which could include being reassigned to another job.
The admiral said the people involved failed to perform their duties while on watch in May at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. The base, home to several fighter squadrons, sits within Virginia’s largest city near housing developments and creeks. Residents have dubbed the near-constant roar of jet engines as the “sound of freedom.”
The spill occurred while jet fuel flowed from a barge on the Intracoastal Waterway to a base pipeline and various storage tanks. A switch left in the wrong position routed fuel into a 2,000-gallon container instead of an 880,000-gallon tank, causing the far-smaller one to overflow.
The error went unnoticed for 16 hours while $180,000 worth of fuel poured out.
“We own this,” Scorby said, adding that the Navy is adding various new safety measures to prevent future spills. “It’s our responsibility to fix it.”
About 25,000 gallons flowed off the base and into nearby neighborhoods and waterways. The Navy said it does not believe residents were exposed to any health risks.
But the odor prompted 48 families to voluntarily leave for as long as two weeks, with many staying in hotels at the Navy’s expense. The cost for hotel rooms and meals was about $180,000.
Scorby said the Navy is still working to help one family return.
Almost 1,500 animals perished. Most were fish, frogs and other marine wildlife. Eighteen migratory birds, which are federally protected, also died.
The Navy and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will continue to monitor the soil and water as well as keep an eye on nearby wetlands that were damaged.
Sailors have also increased their rounds during fueling operations. Among other new safety measures, engineers have installed additional valves to prevent overflows. The Navy is also reviewing its training and qualifications.
“We have been working hard to make a terrible situation better,” Scorby said.
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