No Merrie Monarch greeting for Navy ship

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A U.S. Navy warship met its match Friday in Hilo, in the form of a shallow harbor.

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A U.S. Navy warship met its match Friday in Hilo, in the form of a shallow harbor.

The Pearl Harbor-based USS Chung-Hoon aborted its plans for a pier-side welcoming celebration in Hilo when the harbor pilot and the ship’s commanding officer determined the harbor wasn’t deep enough to safely accommodate the guided-missile destroyer.

The ship’s crew, numbering about 250, was scheduled to attend the Merrie Monarch Festival this weekend, and to march with the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band in the festival’s Royal Parade this morning.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said Friday afternoon that the harbor is 31 feet deep, and the ship was drafting about 1.5 feet lower than that.

“We did confirm with the Navy in an email Wednesday that they knew the depth of the harbor was 31 feet,” he said.

Chief John Hageman of the Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs Office said Friday afternoon that he could not explain why the Navy expected the ship to be able to enter the harbor.

“I do know that the ship’s drivers know what they’re doing,” he said. “I just don’t know how did this happen.”

The Navy was working to find another way to drop the sailors off on shore, including ferrying them by small boat, but nothing had been arranged yet, Hageman said.

“They’re certainly looking to see what they can do, logistically,” he said. “The crew wants to be here so badly. But it’s not the easiest thing to figure out. … We’re hoping we’re going to get those sailors ashore. They were really honored to be involved, and they got so close, only to turn away.”

The band was scheduled to fly into Hilo today and still plans to participate in the parade, he said, while the ship’s captain, Mark Manfredi, also will be on hand.

Neal Herbert, president of the Hilo Council of the Navy League, said he and other members of the group were disappointed the ship wasn’t able to participate in the welcome ceremony — which was to feature a special dance performance by the To‘a Here Tahitian Revue halau — but added that he hoped a workaround could be found to allow the sailors to participate in the festival.

“Traditionally during the Merrie Monarch Festival, they (the Navy) have always come in the past,” he said. “We always try to host them. They’ve been doing this now since the ’70s or ’80s. Lately, with all the sequesters and security changes after 9/11, they haven’t been able to consistently provide a ship during the festival week. The last few times we had them was in 2010 and 2012.”

Fellow league member Doug Arnott, owner and operator of Arnott’s Lodge, said he was happy to drive a group from the ship to the airport Friday after they were brought to shore by a smaller boat.

“It’s kind of a family tradition, it’s natural for me,” he said.

Formerly of Sydney, Australia, Arnott said his mother was a member of the Navy League and helped to host American sailors in Sydney in 1945 during World War II.

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“It was Armageddon for us (Australia) until the Yanks came in. … So, of course, there was a big effort to welcome them. … People would rush down to the harbor to have the privilege of taking an American soldier home for dinner,” he said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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