Pearl Harbor Shipwrecks Are Still Leaking Oil 80 Years Later
When bombs hit the U.S.S. Arizona on December 7, 1941, the ship contained 1.5 million gallons of oil. Obviously, that’s not the most important stat related to the battleship. It also had around 1,500 people on it, 1,177 of whom died. Still, that’s a whole lot of oil.
For comparison, the Exxon Valdez, which was a supertanker devoted solely to carrying oil, spilled 11 million gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska in 1989. This was a huge deal, and Exxon had to spend billions on cleanup and was fined billions more in punitive damages (some of which they actually paid).
So what happened to the Arizona’s oil? It didn’t all burn up when the ship exploded, and it didn’t all leak out into the water in one go. The ship sank, and while the Navy scrapped or salvaged some of it over the next few years, the wreck remains in the water as part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Same deal with the U.S.S. Utah, and both wrecks are still slowly leaking their oil out even today.
People call it the “black tears of the Arizona.” You can see oil rise to the surface, making rainbows on the water. You can even smell the stuff. At the current rate, oil will go on trickling out of the Arizona for another 500 years, if the ship doesn’t totally disintegrate before that.
Naturally, some have suggested sealing off the cracks in the ship or sucking all the oil out to dispose of it properly, reasoning that a constant drop feed of oil can’t be great for Hawaiian waters. Fixing the leak would be tricky, though. The oil isn’t in one single breached container but instead in a bunch of different sections, so you’d have to break apart the whole wreck to deal with the oil. And like we said, that massive wreck is now a war memorial. It’s also a cemetery: The sailors who died and whose remains were never recovered are officially “entombed” there, says the military. We generally try to avoid disturbing tombs, out of both respect and fear, so the Arizona’s just going to have to go on crying those black tears.
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Top image: U.S. Navy