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    Friday, June 22, 2018-5:44:52P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Suspected unexploded ordnance found near grounded vessel

THE salvage operations to remove the container ship MV Paul Russ from the reef in the Saipan Harbor ran into another roadblock yesterday with the discovery of what appears to be unexploded ordnance.

According to a release issued by Lt. William White of the U.S. Coast Guard, “While conducting dive operations, divers discovered what appears to be unexploded ordnance behind and next to the grounded vessel. All response operations in the vicinity of the vessel have been suspended until the U.S. Navy Explosives Ordnance Division (USN EOD) can assess and safely remove the items.”

Before 3 p.m. yesterday, the unified federal and local responders received information that possible unexploded ordnance was seen by divers near the vessel.

“Now, we are trying to validate that. We have notified the UXO folks at DoD about the situation,” Special Assistant for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Marvin K. Seman told Variety.

Seman had a briefing with Governor Eloy S. Inos and the unified team of federal and local authorities on the situation in the harbor before meeting with the media around 3:15 p.m.

Upon receipt of the information of the possible unexploded ordnance in the vicinity of the grounded vessel, Seman said they immediately began securing the area in the interests of safety.

From left, Coast Guard Lt. Kenneth McCain, Capt. James Pruett, Gov. Eloy Inos, Capt. James Jenkins and Marvin Seman, special assistant to the governor for Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  U.S. Coast Guard photoFrom left, Coast Guard Lt. Kenneth McCain, Capt. James Pruett, Gov. Eloy Inos, Capt. James Jenkins and Marvin Seman, special assistant to the governor for Homeland Security and Emergency Management. U.S. Coast Guard photo

This, he said, prompted the expansion of the security zone to about 500 yards.

Seman said they were working closely with the Customs and Border Protection as they needed to bring the crewmembers to shore.

Asked how serious the situation in the harbor was, he said, “It’s serious enough. It will have an impact on vessels coming in and out [of the harbor].”

He also reached out to the public, asking that people steer clear of the area “as we don’t know what could happen.”

The cause of the grounding has yet to be determined.

“We haven’t determined that yet. We are looking at every possible angle,” said Seman.

But the discovery of “what appears to be” unexploded ordnance has made the salvage operations even more complicated.

The U.S. Coast Guard, through Sector Guam’s Lt. White, warned the public not to go close to the salvage site: “Mariners, recreational boaters and persons are advised to exercise extreme caution in areas around the safety zone due to the danger associated with the grounded vessel and unexploded ordinance.”

The U.S. Coast Guard stated in a release that the MV Paul Russ remains aground in the vicinity of buoy number 3 along the navigation channel entering the port of Saipan.

“With both preliminary inspections completed, there have been no reports of the vessel taking on water or discharging oil,” the release said.

It was also reported that the vessel has an estimated 400,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil (IFO 380) onboard.

IFO 380 is a blend of gasoil and heavy fuel oil, which is used as a marine fuel, the release said.

“A 500 yard safety zone will be strictly enforced 24 hours a day, preventing vessels from entering or departing the port of Saipan,” it added.

According to USCG, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port or COTP Guam has established a 500 yard safety zone around the grounded vessel in the vicinity of buoy number 3. Mariners are not authorized within the zone without authorization from COTP Guam.

COTP Guam may be contacted on VHF-FM channel 16, the USCG release said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said on-shore operations continue related to salvage and response plans.

Federal and local uthorities have set up a Unified Command center at the Port of Saipan to monitor and coordinate overall response efforts “for the mitigation of potential pollution and for vessel removal and salvage.”

The vessel’s representative has identified and contracted a company to conduct salvage and pollution response and have personnel on scene, the USCG release added.

The seaport staff was notified early Tuesday morning by MV Paul Russ that it had run aground on the reef.