The U.S. Army, in partnership with the U.S. Navy and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, have safely recovered oil from the capsized World War II German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Kwajalein Atoll last month.
The operation was led by U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command’s Office of the Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) which spent two years researching, planning and preparing for this unprecedented undertaking: removing oil from up to 173 tanks of a WWII heavy cruiser warship.
These recovery efforts, sponsored by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command /Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ ARSTRAT), will ensure mission capability of the USASMDC/ ARSTRAT’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), a Major Range Test Facility Base (MRTFB) activity on Kwajalein Atoll & Wake Island, which is 3.6 miles from the wreck site. The efforts will also protect the sensitive ecosystem within the atoll.
The SUPSALV has experience and technology leveraged from other sunken vessel oil removal projects such as ex-USS Chehalis in 2010 and USS Mississinewa in 2003. With support from the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command (MSC) Safeguard-class salvage ship, USNS Salvor (ARS-52) and the deployed Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit, Company 1-8 from Pearl Harbor, HI, the team conducted over 100 hot taps through the hull of the ship to recover 228,900 gallons of oil.
The ex-USS Prinz Eugen was commissioned as heavy cruiser in the German Navy in 1940 and transferred to the U.S. Navy as a war prize from the British Royal Navy in 1946. The ship was then assigned as a test ship to test survivability of warships during the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests – the Able and Baker Atomic Tests – in Bikini Atoll. Following the second test, she had sustained minor damage that could not be repaired due to the radioactivity. She was taken to Kwajalein Atoll awaiting further instructions. As she slowly took on water, an attempt was made to tow her out of the Atoll, but she capsized and sank while in transit.
The mission took place from August through October 2018, during which the joint team removed all of the accessible oil entrapped in the sunken vessel’s 173 fuel tanks. The main objective of this exercise was to eliminate the potential for a catastrophic release of the oil from the deteriorating wreck and protect the surrounding marine environment and population from potential contamination.