A U.S. Navy ship struck part of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor on Wednesday morning, according to a woman whose husband witnessed the accident.
Photos submitted by the woman, who declined to be identified because her spouse serves in the Navy, show the naval hospital ship USNS Mercy sailing dangerously close to the USS Arizona Memorial. Her husband took the photographs from nearby Ford Island.
"It went right over the dock," she told Military.com. "You could hear the metal crunching. My husband said you could see mud and water being kicked up. It backed up to within feet of hitting the white memorial building."
Tug boats were guiding the hospital ship from its port at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at around 7 a.m. local time.
A Navy official who asked not to be identified said of the incident, "It looks like one of the tugs that was pushing her as she left the harbor might have hit the visitor landing to the Arizona."
It's unclear how much, if any, damage was done to the USS Arizona wreckage.
Bill Doughty, a spokesman for Navy Region Hawaii, said that while the dock sustained significant damage and was later separated by workers from the memorial structure, "there appears to be no damage to the vessel." Navy divers continue to inspect the memorial, the front of which sustained "minor damage," and the sunken ship, he said.
"We're especially looking at the moorings and the anchors that connect the floating dock," he said in a telephone interview shortly after a local news conference to discuss the incident. "We're very concerned obviously. It's a very sacred place."
A spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which manages the memorial, didn't respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach a public affairs officer for the ship weren't successful.
A statement was posted to the base's Facebook page earlier in the day confirming the dock was damaged. "The floating dock at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor was damaged this morning (May 27) as the Hospital Ship USNS Mercy was underway," it states. "Initial reports indicated that a tug boat hit the Memorial, but an investigation is underway."
Boat passenger traffic onto the memorial was suspended to assess the extent of damage and ensure the safety of visitors, it states. Boat tours of Pearl Harbor will continue from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, but without the ability to drop passengers off at the memorial, it states.
Doughty said the park service plans to reopen the memorial in about a week.
The Mercy, operated by the service's Military Sealift Command, is based in San Diego. It recently arrived in Pearl Harbor in preparation for Pacific Partnership 2015, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indio-Asia-Pacific region, according to Defense Department.
The Mercy's website lists the commanding officer of the ship's medical treatment facility, or MTF, as Capt. Melanie Merrick, a physician who deployed in support of the war in Iraq and other contingencies, according to her biography. The site doesn't identify the person in charge of the ship itself.
A Navy official later identified the master of the USNS Mercy -- the equivalent of the commanding officer -- as Capt. Thomas Giudice, a civilian mariner who's responsible for navigating the vessel. At the time of the accident, the hospital ship may have been under the direction of the two tug boats hired to transit the vessel out of the harbor.
The USS Arizona Memorial is the final resting place of most of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who were killed during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, according to the National Park Service. The 184-foot-long memorial structure spans the mid-portion of the sunken battleship, according to the service.
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@military.com
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@Military.com
-- Michael Hoffman can be reached at Mike.Hoffman@military.com