USACE Completes Vessel Debris Removal Operations, Reaches Major Milestone

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris removal mission on Maui reached an important milestone on March 15. Under the management and supervision of USACE, contractors completed the removal of vessel debris from 80 fire-damaged vessels received from the U.S. Coast Guard.

USACE provided oversight for vessel debris removal operations under a Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignment. This was part of a coordinated effort with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the County of Maui and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up areas of the island affected by the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfires.

“The vessel debris removal process required several steps,” said Office Engineer Nicole Wojcik, USACE Emergency Field Office in West Maui. “Prior to USACE accepting the vessels the EPA and USCG removed hazardous materials and diesel from the fuel tanks, followed by the Coast Guard staging the retrieved vessels in a yard so the contractor could begin their part of the operation.”

USACE is overseeing the debris removal mission under a Federal Emergency Management Agency assigned mission, which is part of a coordinated effort with the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency, Maui County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up areas of the island affected by the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfires. USACE PHOTO BY ROBERT DEDEAUX

The next step required the contractor to break the vessels into manageable pieces no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet. The smaller sections were then separated into different groups such as fiberglass and metal and processed accordingly.

According to Leonard Bakker, the zone manager with USACE, vessel debris removal operations are not common in USACE missions; however, there were some previously done. For example, after Hurricane Maria in 2017 some vessel removal operations were completed in the U. S. Virgin Islands However, Wojcik explained the major difference is that in a fire, it is mainly the top of the boat being burned, but in a hurricane, the vessel is usually destroyed.

Throughout the removal process, the contractor encountered several challenges. One was the removal of the 48-passenger Atlantis Submarine tourist attraction.

“Disposing of the submarine required three barge racks and an 80-ton crane to pick up each section of the submarine to transport for off-island disposal,” said Wojcik, who deployed from the Fort Worth District in Texas. “Additionally, The Roxie , which was the tugboat for the Atlantis Submarine, took eight days of torch cutting for the vessel to be properly dismantled, it was the only way of reducing its size.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers quality assurance specialist Jubbar Arshad (left), of the Rock Island District, monitors vessel debris removal in Lahaina, Hawai‘i, Jan. 27. USACE PHOTO BY ROBERT DEDEAUX

As with all other aspects of the debris cleanup on Maui, environmental responsibility was at the forefront of the operation. The contractor was required to follow a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, which ensured they would be environmentally conscious when processing any vessel debris. The contractor was also sensitive and accommodating to those who lost property and vessels due to the fire.

“The contractors actually went above and beyond, ensuring proper coordination with the vessel owners allowing them to note items of importance,” said Wojcik. “There were several items the contractor retrieved and returned. A set of vessel hull squid paintings, that contained family member names were returned to a family. The contractor was also able to retrieve several propellers from various vessels and return them to their rightful owners.”

To ensure debris removal operations are conducted safely, there is significant coordination and safety planning between USACE and the contractor performing the work. USACE PHOTO BY ROBERT DEDEAUX

As the recovery continues this interagency team used their skills and expertise to ensure smooth and safe operations.

“Closing out the vessel debris removal operation was a huge milestone for the Hawaii Wildfires recovery mission,” said Col. Eric Swenson, Recovery Field Office Commander. “It was the culmination of a great partnership between USACE, the Coast Guard and the EPA along with state and local stakeholders to ensure the safe removal of debris from the Lahaina Harbor.”

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