Navy Cruiser Returns to Port Again After Crew Spots Another Fuel Tank Leak

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf.
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) arrives at Marathi NATO Pier facility for a routine port visit. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chelsy Alamina)

A Navy warship has halted the start of its deployment again after turning back to shore a second time in about two weeks to address more trouble with a fuel tank.

Vella Gulf, a Virginia-based Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, arrived in Norfolk on Sunday -- a day after officials announced it was briefly back at sea following repairs to a leaking fuel oil tank. The new problem affected the same tank, but a Navy official familiar with the problem said the issues appear to be unrelated.

Tank corrosion is believed to have caused the first leak.

The cruiser turned back to shore this weekend while operating near the Virginia Capes by the Chesapeake Bay. A technical assessment is underway to repair the new problem.

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"Experts are still evaluating the scope of the issue," said Lt. Marycate Walsh, a spokeswoman for U.S. 2nd Fleet. "This is an ongoing situation, and more information will be provided once it becomes available."

Vella Gulf deployed with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group on Feb. 19. The crew noticed a fuel oil leak in one of its engineering spaces after hitting heavy seas, forcing the ship to turn back.

It arrived back in Norfolk on Feb. 26, where it remained until March 13. The crew stayed on the ship last time to prevent possible exposure to COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Walsh said they're taking the same precautions this time.

"The ship is currently in a bubble," she said. "The crew will remain onboard at this time until the extent of damage is determined."

She said the Navy remains confident in the repair work to fix the problem on the ship earlier this month, even though the new leak affected the same tank.

"The tank was inspected by qualified structural engineers, and corroded and pitted areas were evaluated using established engineering methods and standards," she said. "Repairs were completed where required."

Navy leaders always have the safety of sailors at front of mind when making operational decisions, she added.

"Technical experts deemed the ship safe for sea, and provided professional advice that informed the underway timeline," Walsh said. "We will follow the same process when preparing the ship to return to sea this time."

The rest of the carrier strike group remains at sea. A second Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, the Monterey, is deployed with the Eisenhower.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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