Sailor connected to summer jet fuel spill at Oceana received an other-than-honorable discharge, Navy says

Emergency service personnel extinguish a fire on an aircraft fire trainer during a drill at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., on Oct. 31, 2013. According to reports Friday, May, 19, 2017, Navy officials said a switch was left in the wrong position on May 10 allowing 94,000 gallons of jet fuel to spill overnight around NAS Oceana.


By COURTNEY MAEBUS | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 5, 2017

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A sailor who faced charges in connection with a 94,000-gallon jet fuel spill at Naval Air Station Oceana in May was separated from the Navy with an other-than-honorable discharge Monday, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic said in a news release.

The Navy charged the sailor with dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and loss of military property in September following an investigation into the spill, the largest in the base’s history. The sailor, a petty officer second class who was assigned to the Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Norfolk, has not been identified. The separation agreement was made in lieu of a court martial. The sailor admitted guilt during an administrative hearing in November, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Beth Baker said Tuesday.

Eight sailors and one civilian have been disciplined or faced administrative actions, including reassignment of duties, in the incident, the Navy said. Administrative action against a final sailor is expected in January, Baker said. Disciplinary actions have included reductions in rank, forfeiture of pay, extra duties and punitive reprimands. Two commissioned officers are included among the nine sailors, but Baker did not know their ranks.

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources the American public entrusts to us to defend the nation,” Rear Adm. Jack Scorby, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement Tuesday. “We take these responsibilities seriously and we hold people accountable when they don’t. We set high standards for our people and we won’t tolerate those who fall short of those standards.”

The Navy will begin follow-up testing and monitoring to determine if any fuel remains in the soil, groundwater sediment or surface water later this month and will include 20 shallow groundwater monitoring wells that will be installed on and off the base near the fuel farm and along London Bridge Road.

A switch left in the wrong position during delivery diverted fuel from three 880,000-gallon tanks to a 2,000-gallon tank May 10. By the time the spill was discovered the next morning, about 25,000 gallons had spread to London Bridge Road and a ditch that runs parallel to it and into Wolfsnare Creek, a tributary of the Lynnhaven River. Scorby said those standing watch failed to make hourly rounds to ensure that fuel tanks were not leaking. The number of personnel on watch was subsequently doubled from 20 to 40.

Following the spill, the Navy changed its fuel management processes to prevent future incidents. Updates include increased rounds completed by a two- person team comprised of a civilian and a sailor, the installation of new valves to help prevent overfill, and a move toward completing fuel delivery between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

The combined cleanup efforts of the Navy, Coast Guard, state and local officials have cost $3.8 million. The spill killed more than 1,400 animals, mostly fish, and marsh vegetation turned brown. Residents complained of headaches, nausea and sore throats. As many as four dozen families accepted the Navy’s offer to temporarily move into hotels.

A redacted command investigation into the spill released Tuesday revealed several issues within Oceana’s fuels division, including poor attitudes from leadership and lack of proper oversight and training.

“The poor workplace climate within Oceana Fuels Division cannot be isolated to a few individuals or a specific issue; it is a systemic problem that has persisted for years,” an investigator wrote.

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