Security cameras that should have captured two major fuel leaks at the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility last year were not recording because months prior, someone cut an electrical line “rendering all the cameras unusable,” Rep. Kai Kahele said during a Facebook Live event on Tuesday evening.

The Navy has identified a fuel leak on May 6, 2021 as the likely cause of the water contamination that hit the taps of military families in November. Fuel from that leak allegedly made its way into a fire suppression drain pipe that burst on Nov. 20 when it was supposedly hit with a cart.

Red Hill well pipe will pump up to 5 million gallons of contaminated water to 8 tanks that contain granulated carbon to filter the contaminants and then be discharged into the Halawa Stream.
Security cameras are mounted in the tunnels of the facility, Kahele said. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Kahele said that during one of his visits to the World World II-era facility near Pearl Harbor, he asked about security footage. He saw cameras in “two key locations” that should have recorded both incidents, he said, adding that he thought the footage could help answer some critical questions.

“How long did it take to secure that fuel leak?” Kahele said. “Where did that fuel go? How much fuel was coming out? You could have seen that all in the camera. So I asked.”

The Navy said there are 92 cameras throughout the facility, according to Kahele. The congressman said he went to the operations center and asked the staff to show him the footage.

“I wanted to see it live in that moment from those two cameras,” he said, adding that he was told the cameras weren’t working.

Rep. Kai Kahele said the Navy told him security footage of fuel leaks at Red Hill doesn't exist.
Rep. Kai Kahele said the Navy still hasn’t shared an investigative report into the cause of the fuel leaks. Screenshot: Facebook Live

So Kahele said he filed an official request for information to view the footage. The answer was that “footage from those cameras doesn’t exist,” he said.

In January 2021, a contractor severed a cable that provided power to 44 out of the 57 closed-circuit cameras, including those that would’ve recorded the areas of the May and November leaks, according to the Navy’s response to Kahele, which his office shared with Civil Beat.

“Because of the loss of power, there is no footage of either incident,” the Navy told him.

The Navy said the severing of the line was done “inadvertently,” according to Kahele.

There is “mobile device footage” that was taken after the November leak started, and that was turned over to military investigators, the Navy told Kahele.

That the cameras were out of service less than six months before one of two major leaks is “incredibly unbelievable,” Kahele said, but without any evidence to the contrary, “I’ve got to take them at their word.”

“Again, it just adds to the continued failures of the Navy to properly operate the Red Hill underground fuel storage facility and it just further reaffirms my position that the Navy can no longer manage this facility properly and safely for the people of Hawaii — if we can’t even make sure the camera systems can operate,” he said.

A local contractor started work on fixing the system on Jan. 3 of this year, according to the Navy’s response to Kahele.

“The contractor is currently restoring power and will determine whether the system can be fixed or needs to be replaced,” the Navy said. “(The Defense Logistics Agency) is committed to funding a full replacement if the system cannot be repaired.”

The DLA has invested $133,000 so far in the repairs, the Navy told Kahele.

For the surveillance cameras to be out of commission for approximately a year at the Red Hill facility, which the Navy considers a vital national security asset, raises serious security questions. The Red Hill tanks hold about 180 million gallons of fuel at any given time, according to the Navy.

The Navy did not respond to questions about Kahele’s comments on Tuesday evening.

A report on the Navy’s investigation into the cause of the contamination was submitted to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Pentagon last month, but it hasn’t been made public. Kahele said he awaits its release.

“Your congressional delegation has been very adamant to the Navy that they need to release the full investigative report, unredacted, in full transparency, and as of right now tonight, I have not even seen that report,” Kahele said.

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author