Secutiry and fire watch team members patrol the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Halawa, Hawaii, Sep. 6, 2023.

Secutiry and fire watch team members patrol the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Halawa, Hawaii, Sep. 6, 2023. (Nicholas Brown/Department of Defense)

Three retired rear admirals who had leadership roles at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam when fuel spills contaminated drinking water for thousands of military families were formally reprimanded Thursday.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro issued letters of censure that cite leadership failures for fuel spills in May and November 2021, based on recommendations from Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, according to a Navy news release.

Caudle “considered all Navy service members whose performance may have been reasonably called into question with one or both of the fuel spills,” according to the release Thursday.

The letters are placed into the flag officers’ service records, but no other penalty such as loss of pay or benefits accompanies the censure. The three have 15 days to submit rebuttals for their records.

Jet fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, 5 miles northwest of Honolulu, spilled into the water supply for military families in May and November 2021. The censure letters cite failures to learn from the May incident, prepare for a possible fuel spill and prevent the November spill that drove those families from their homes.

Many reported ill effects from household use of the contaminated water and were temporarily placed in hotels and motels on Oahu.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of military families is pending in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The suit alleges the contaminated water caused seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological issues, burns, rashes, lesions, thyroid abnormalities, migraines and neurobehavioral challenges.

The three admirals reprimanded Thursday are retired Rear Adm. Peter Stamatopoulos, who led the Naval Supply Systems Command at the time of the spills; retired Rear Adm. John Korka, former commander of Navy Facilities Engineering Command Pacific; and retired Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, the Navy Region Hawaii commander during the November 2021 spill.

Stamatopoulos’ letter states he approved a cursory investigation into the May spill that yielded few corrective actions and contributed to the November spill that year.

Korka approved use of an unauthorized polyvinylchloride piping for a firefighting foam system that was the “proximate cause of the fuel spill” at the Red Hill facility, his letter states.

Kott’s letter says he failed to plan a response to a potential spill and drill on it periodically. He also failed to respond promptly to the November spill, waiting 34 hours to order an on-scene assessment.

“Had you ensured a proper environmental risk analysis, the risk to the drinking water system could have been identified before the first reports of contamination,” the letter states.

Kott waited four days to announce the Red Hill facility had been secured, undermining public trust and suggesting the Navy was not transparent in its reporting of the incident, according to Del Toro’s letter.

“What happened was not acceptable and the Department of the Navy will continue to take every action to identify and remedy this issue,” Del Toro said in the Navy release. “Taking accountability is a step in restoring the trust in our relationship with the community.”

author picture
Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

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