The destroyer Porter returns to Naval Station Norfolk on November 4, 2012 following an August collision with a oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — Under a new skipper, the patched-up destroyer Porter returned to its berth here Nov. 4 with sea stories to tell from its harrowing deployment.
The ship's crew members were relieved to be home and proud to have steered their repaired ship back after a wrenching collision three months earlier. Their families and friends greeted them in a brief ceremony at the end of the pier. Kids clutched signs on the chilly day. Sailors didn't linger.
The subdued scene was a stark contrast to that of the aircraft carrier Enterprise, the flagship of Porter's strike group, which returned from its final deployment earlier that day to great fanfare.
Porter's Middle East deployment irrevocably changed five months in, just after midnight Aug. 12, when the destroyer ran into a supertanker driving in the opposite direction near the Strait of Hormuz, an impact that jolted the crew into action.
"It was just a sudden hit, and we knew that it wasn't a normal hit," said Chief Interior Communications Electrician (SW) Jammey Antoine. "Everybody was scared. We were frightened. But we train for this."
Repair teams found the tanker's bow had gashed open a room-sized hole in the destroyer's starboard side above the waterline. The hit severed cables and smashed piping, sending water everywhere. The crew set about trying to shore up the flooding and extinguish electrical fires, known as Class ‘C' blazes. Remarkably, no one had been injured.
"The [Class] Charlie fires were very small," said Command Master Chief (SS/SW) Mike Kelly, the ship's top enlisted man, who recalled he was in chief's berthing at the moment of impact. "It's just electrical arcing and spark, but we got it done quickly."
Kelly, other crew members and Navy officials repeatedly said the Porter's crew "saved" the ship, but they were barred from going into details because of ongoing investigations. The Navy determined the ship's commanding officer at the time of the collision, Cmdr. Martin Arriola, made a number of judgment errors, including the decision to turn left in an attempt to cross ahead of the supertanker, and sacked him in late August. The aftermath could have been much worse, the one-star commander of the Enterprise strike group said.
"If the collision had occurred some number of feet further aft, we wouldn't be talking about where Porter is," said Rear Adm. Ted Carter. "It might have cut the ship in half."
At the time of the mishap, Lt. j.g. Shaun Geary was fresh out of damage control school and had recently reported to the destroyer. He rushed to take control of the response. Geary said his crews focused on dewatering a couple of compartments and said they were able to contain the flooding flowing from the severed pipes.
"It was definitely a shock, but everybody remained calm," Geary said.
Geary, Antoine and the ship's new skipper, Cmdr. Dave Richardson, all spoke to TV crews on the pier. Afterward, Richardson joked that the voyage repairs, which cost $2.2 million, were so good a refueling oiler couldn't tell which side had been damaged.
The leaders said the crew had pulled together and morale was improving.
"The morale's good," Kelly, the CMC, said on the pier. "We just pulled in — it doesn't get much better."