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Navy hospital ship damages USS Arizona Memorial dock in Pearl Harbor

Onlookers wave to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy as it arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on May 25, 2015.

GABRIELLE JOYNER/U.S. NAVY

By DAN NAKASO AND MATHEW URSUA | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: May 28, 2015

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Tribune News Service) — The thousands of visitors who pour into Hawaii's most popular tourist attraction – the USS Arizona Memorial – will not be able to board for up to a week after the USNS Mercy hospital ship struck the memorial's floating dock Wednesday as the Mercy was towed out of Pearl Harbor.

Work crews used a floating crane to remove the memorial's dock about seven hours after the 7:45 a.m. accident, and Navy Capt. Stan Keeve, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, said "superficial" concrete chunks of the memorial itself also broke off.

The crash damaged the dock's ramps and railings and pushed the floating dock about 10 feet toward the memorial on the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center-side of Pearl Harbor, according to the National Park Service, which runs the memorial.

Keeve did not have an estimate of the repair costs. He said the Mercy suffered no damage.

An investigation remains underway about the cause of the crash between the memorial and the Mercy, which was being towed by a Navy contractor, Honolulu-based P & R Water Taxi.

P & R Water Taxi did not answer its phone or respond to emails Wednesday afternoon after the company was identified by Navy officials.

The USS Arizona Memorial draws 1.8 million visitors each year. Every day, 4,350 of them fill nearly every seat on Navy-run launches that take them from the shoreside visitor center to the memorial, which straddles the remains of the sunken USS Arizona.

The USS Arizona Memorial remains a symbol of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that brought an initially reluctant United States into World War II.

Wednesday's crash occurred just before Defense Secretary Ashton Carter attended a joint change-of-command ceremony for both the Pacific Fleet and Pacific Command.

Asked if Carter had been briefed on the damage to the Arizona Memorial, Keeve said, "I'm sure he probably has."

Following Wednesday's accident, Navy launches continued to ferry passengers out to within 100 to 200 yards of the memorial, but no one was allowed on it.

Wayne Schulte did not get to set foot on the memorial after traveling from South Carolina with a child with cancer who is visiting Hawaii thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

"We came a long way," Schulte said. "It's disappointing. ... We were on the boat. We went about halfway, and they said this is as close as you can get."

Kristen Gant of Sydney came even farther with four others in her group.

"It's just one of those things that I think all kids should see, because we need to know and learn and remember and honor what went on," Grant said.

After coming back to shore, she said she understood the explanation for why her group could not get to the memorial as, "Some numb-nuts ran into the dock and it broke."

Faith Kreis of Portland, Ore., was more understanding after getting off a Navy launch.

"The rangers did a wonderful job telling us all about it," Kreis said. "The reasoning made a whole lot of sense. They just said there was an accident or something. The whole thing was about the safety factor."

USS Arizona Memorial Superintendent Paul DePrey said in statement: "We deeply regret the impact this will have on visitors' experience, but we want to make sure that everyone has a safe visit. We will work closely with the Navy to resume access to the memorial as soon as safety allows."

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship Mercy arrived at Pearl Harbor on Monday for Pacific Partnership 2015, which the Navy calls the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

It left Hawaiian waters under its own power for a four-month deployment in the Southeast Asia and Oceania regions.

The National Park Service emphasized that the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin Submarine remain open.

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USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
WYATT OLSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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