The USS Arizona received 1.5 million gallons of oil the day before the Pearl Harbor attack
500,000 gallons were estimated to have been destroyed in the initial attack
Another 500,000 were said to have been destroyed in the following days
The remaining 500,000 is still leaking out of the USS Arizona at a rate of 9 quarts a day
People refer to the oil that coats the water as “black tears” or the “tears of the Arizona”
Many know the story of the Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the historic USS Arizona in 1941 that took with it 1,177 lives. Very few know that for the last 76-years the ship, now the Pearl Harbor Memorial, has been leaking oil into the waters on which it rests.
On December 7, 1941, at 7:55 am, Japanese fighter planes unleashed a brutal attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor. The assault did not even last 2 hours, but when the smoke cleared 2,400 were dead, an additional 1,000 were wounded, and 20 American ships, along with over 300 airplanes, were either damaged or destroyed.
After the USS Arizona had sunk, the superstructure and main armament were salvaged and reused to support the war effort. Left behind were the ship’s hull, two gun turrets and the remains of more than 1,000 crewman.
In 1949, the Pacific War Memorial Commission was created to erect a permanent memorial in dedication to those who lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack. It was not until 1958 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to move forward with the memorial. The monument was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962.
1.5 Million Gallons of Oil
On December 6, 1941, the day before the attack, the USS Arizona received a full load of fuel in preparation for a scheduled trip to the mainland later in the month. When the battleship sank, it was said to hold 1.5 million gallons of oil. So where did the oil go?
It is estimated that out of the 1.5 million gallons, 500,000 gallons were lost in the initial attack. Then over the next few days, another 500,000 gallons were leaked out of the ship.
Experts believe that when all was said and done the ship still contained 500,000 gallons of oil that initially was leaking into the water at a rate of 2 quarts a day. Currently, it is believed that the USS Arizona is leaking 8-9 quarts of oil a day.
A Catastrophic Event
There have been studies done to evaluate the possible environmental damage. According to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, the Navy decided to let the ship continue to sink instead of stopping the leak, or removing the ship.
Microbiologist Ralph Mitchell took some of the corroding metal from the USS Arizona and had it sent to his laboratory at Harvard. Mitchell was conducting a study on the bacteria feeding off of the USS Arizona’s oil leak. He found that the oil was indeed speeding up the corrosion on the monument, but no further studies or actions were taken due to funding issues.
Some scientists believe the leak will eventually become a catastrophic eruption of oil that could potentially do irreparable damage to the Hawaii shoreline.
Tears of the Arizona
At this time, the National Park Service and other government agencies claim to continue to keep an eye on the situation. Despite watching the monument continue to deteriorate, agencies are reluctant to work on the battleship due to the USS Arizona’s role as a “war grave.”
Since 1982, the US Navy has allowed survivors of the USS Arizona to be interred within the ship’s wreckage. Following a full military funeral service at the memorial, ashes are then placed into a urn and divers place their remains under one of the gun turrets. Over 30 people have decided to have the USS Arizona be their final resting place.
The burials may contribute to a very bizarre rationalizing of the leaking oil. The leaking oil that now coats the water is sometimes referred to as “black tears,” or “tears of the Arizona.” There is a ridiculous story that claims the oil will continue to leak until the last Pearl Harbor survivor dies, because apparently polluting Hawaii’s water becomes okay when there is a ghost story behind it.