VIRGINIA BEACH — A man who pleaded guilty to his part in a major jet fuel spill at a U.S. Navy base has been formally discharged from his military service, officials say.
Formerly assigned to the Navy Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Norfolk, the sailor — who officials are not naming because it’s an administrative action, not judicial — pleaded guilty in November to failing to perform hourly “pipeline patrol” rounds, providing a false official statement and loss of military property, according to a Navy Region Mid-Atlantic news release.
He was formally separated from the Navy on Monday via an “other-than-honorable-discharge” instead of undergoing a court-martial as originally scheduled, officials said.
His actions — as well as those of other sailors and a civilian — allowed for about 119,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel to leak onto the base and into nearby waterways on May 11.
Citing “multiple instances of human error, dereliction of duty and local oversight,” the Navy reprimanded and disciplined nine enlisted sailors and senior officers, as well as one civilian employee. The consequences ranged from reduction of rank and forfeiture of pay to reassignment of duties and documented reprimands, officials said.
Officials said that the spill began overnight on the base and continued until about 6:30 a.m. before it was stopped. They believe a fuel switch was left in an “incorrect position,” resulting in the pumping of fuel that would normally fit three 880,000-gallon tanks to overflow, according to the Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Commander Rear Adm. Jack Scorby.
As a result, 94,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked into the fuel farm at NAS Oceana and an additional 25,000 gallons leaked into a ditch outside of the base and nearby Wolfsnare Creek. The cost of fuel spilled alone — without considering cleanup — was about $184,000, officials said.
Although the initial cleanup was anticipated to take two days, it stretched out over two weeks as officials discovered fuel as far away as Wolfsnare Creek near Arrowfield Road.
More than 700 fish and animals died as a result of the fuel spill, and the Navy had to temporarily relocate 48 families. Although some people complained of headaches and nausea, health officials determined that the air quality in surrounding neighborhoods hadn’t been negatively impacted, Southside Daily reported.
The Navy doubled down on its number of watchstanders after the fuel spill and reviewed safety practices not only on NAS Oceana, but other bases as well.
Fuel management process have been changed to include:
- An increase of fuel check rounds to be done by two people, including a sailor and a civilian
- An added spring-loaded valve that automatically stops when a person releases the lever
- The installation of an overfill prevention valve
- Fuel deliveries are now being made during the day as often as possible
The Navy is also slated to do environmental testing in December to determine if any fuel lingers in the soil or surrounding waters.
“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources the American public entrusts to us to defend the nation,” Scorby wrote in a news release. “We take these responsibilities seriously and we hold people accountable when they don’t.”
Information from Southside Daily’s archives was used in this story.
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