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The fleet that never sets sail
By William Cole
Drive down H-2 Freeway on any given day, and over in Pearl Harbor, it looks as if an armada of ships is ready to set sail, bows pointing into the wind.
As kama'aina know, the scene never seems to change. On closer inspection, some of the ships in Middle Loch harbor are old. Really old. In the past, the fleet has included 1940s-vintage vessels.
The Inactive Ships On-Site Maintenance Office, as the collection is called, is one of three inactive-ship storage facilities run by the Navy for non-nuclear-powered ships. The others are in Bremerton, Wash., and Philadelphia.
The Navy's inactive nuclear vessels are stored at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton.
Despite their static appearance, the ships in Middle Loch do change, carrying a boatload of history and times good and bad as they come and go.
There are 35 ships and service craft moored in the "ghost fleet," which was created after World War II, when the Navy suddenly had a surplus of drydocks and ships in such places as Pearl Harbor, Guam and the Philippines.
Arriving here in fiscal 2008 were the Sea Flyer (IX 515), the Ogden (LPD-5), the Kilauea (AE 26), the Niagara Falls (AFS 3) and the Juneau (LPD 10), according to the Navy.
Departing (in this case, for the ocean bottom) were the destroyers Cushing and Fletcher, which were sunk in the Rimpac 2008 naval exercises.
Among the newer arrivals, the Kilauea was the lead ship of her class of ammunition ships, and named after the long-erupting volcano. The Kilauea was commissioned in 1968 and decommissioned in 1980.
The amphibious transport dock ship Ogden was commissioned in 1965 and earned nine campaign stars for Vietnam War service.
The 589-foot ship also had the bad luck of colliding with the fast-attack submarine Greeneville on Feb. 27, 2002 — which itself was notorious for striking the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru on Feb. 9, 2001, off Diamond Head.
The Pearl Harbor sub was conducting an emergency main ballast tank blow and ascent. Nine crew members on the Ehime Maru were killed.
Juneau, another amphibious transport dock ship, also was a Vietnam veteran, completing eight cruises into Vietnamese waters and earning five battle stars.
In 1991, Juneau offloaded equipment, ammunition and troops in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm.
The Niagara Falls, a combat stores ship, was commissioned in 1967 and decommissioned on Sept. 20 last year.
Sea Flyer, meanwhile, is a Navy ship that was equipped with a 170-ton underwater lifting body designed by Hawai'i-based company Navatek Ltd. under an $18 million contract.
The Belleau Wood, an 820-foot amphibious assault ship, was among the biggest ships in the Middle Loch inactive fleet. It, too, was sunk during Rimpac, when the exercise was held in 2006.
The decommissioned Navy ships are sold to other countries, mothballed for possible re-use, scrapped or designated to become targets in military exercises.