HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Sunday, Dec. 12, the Navy allowed media to visit the affected area at Red Hill Shaft to see fuel recovery operations being done by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU) divers, as well as other contractors.

MDSU One divers have been pumping and skimming the contaminated water into environmental containment tanks, which is then treated at the FLC Fuel Oil Reclamation Facility.

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Media walked down a tunnel into a room with water tanks and a two-foot-wide hole. About 17 divers have been alternating two to three-hour shifts to go down that two-foot-wide hole — approximately 80 to 90 feet deep — to inspect and test the well.

The divers wear protective gear, including rubber dry suits and sealed helmets that have a special exhaust to keep contaminated water out of their suit; the divers are completely enclosed.

“Once he puts this on, he is starting to sweat, he has no ventilation. So, it’s important to safely get him dressed up, briefed and down there into the water where he can maintain some kind of body temperature without overheating,” explained Jose Castillo III, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One Company 18 Commander.

“Once we took samples, then we set up for a skimming operation to remove some of the contamination so we can start trying to rehabilitate this well — that’s what’s currently going on right now,” Castillo continued.

One MDSU One diver has been with the company for four years. He said his team typically does salvage operations in open water and that this task is unlike any other.

“We’re adjusting the pump to the waterline, and we’re basically skimming all the white film — you saw the TV screen footage — and we’re doing it in shifts. So, we’re kind of rotating out, it’s really hot down there, and it’s not, it’s not comfortable,” said MDSU One ND2 diver Reed Akey.

Akey said the cleanup has been a slow start; one official said Sunday marked the third successful day of skimming the water.

“It took a little tweaking of the equipment during the last few days to get a successful amount of water that we’re skimming from the surface,” explained Castillo III. “So, we’re going to have that assessed, and there will be other entities examining what we’re removing.”

There is one large screen that is connected to an underwater camera that monitors the skimming of the contaminated water. The water then funnels through large hoses and outside into 20,000-gallon tanks.  

“They’re going to sample that once we get a good amount of water out of it, and we’ll see how effective we’re being and, possibly, continue to improve our skimming operations at either a different apparatus or make minor modifications to see if we can get better at what we’re doing, but we are making a bit of progress,” Castillo III added.

As of Sunday, the Navy said they are still filling tank number one. From there, experts will test the water and figure out the ratio of fresh versus contaminated water.

“This will help the Navy get to its next steps of remediation and returning this to a safe condition,” Castillo III stated.

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Some of the divers working on the task live in areas that were impacted by the water.

“We have guys working on this job right now that are being affected by it,” explained Akey. “So it’s affecting us, and we’re really trying to get it done as safely and effectively as we can.”