Pearl Harbor Shipyard Turns 100, In Need Of Major Upgrades

Aug 22, 2019

A historic dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard turned 100 years old this week. But to last another 100 years, it will need billions of dollars in upgrades.

The shipyard is Hawaii’s largest industrial employer, with almost 6,000 civilian workers generating $ 1 billion in economic activity annually.

Construction on Pearl Harbor’s Dry Dock 1 was completed in 1919 at a cost of $74 million in today’s dollars.

It was the site where two U.S. Navy destroyers - damaged in the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack - were overhauled. Six months later, Dry Dock 1 was the location of a repair that’s even more famous.

After the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, the heavily damaged aircraft carrier USS Yorktown limped back to Pearl Harbor. A shift captain at the shipyard assessed repairs would take three months. Admiral Chester Nimitz gave him three days.

After 72 hours of around-the-clock work, the Yorktown was back in action and headed for Midway Atoll, where it helped win that decisive battle.

According to Hawaiian legend, the waters around the shipyard were once the site of their own great battle, as recounted by Hawaiian practitioner Walter Kawaiaea at Wednesday's centennial ceremony.

"Pu’uloa was the site of the largest and fiercest battle between the guardian sharks of Oahu and the marauding man-eating sharks from the island of Hawaii," Kawaiaea said.

The first attempt at building Dry Dock 1 in 1913 resulted in complete structural failure, leading several Hawaiian workers to speculate that the dock was being built on the home of one of those shark deities. After offerings and a Hawaiian blessing, construction began again – this time successfully.

A hundred years later, it remains critical to the U.S. Navy, according to the shipyard's commander U.S. Navy Captain Gregory Burton.

"The shipyard is strategically vital. In our Navy, there's only public shipyards; this is one of the four.  When you look between the West Coast in the Far East, what fully capable depot capabilities there are, this is the only one," Burton told HPR.

But the shipyard needs billions of dollars in upgrades to remain effective into the future. There haven’t been significant upgrades to naval shipyards since the introduction of nuclear-powered vessels in the 1960s and 70s.

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case says Congress is aware of the problem.

"The role of the shipyard is only going to increase. We are going to have to invest and we will be investing billions of dollars here. We always need to remember that it's not just facilities, it’s people -- it's the personnel, and we have the top talent right here in our shipyard and we need to keep it that way," Case said following the ceremony. 

Congress plans to spend $21 billion on upgrades to Navy shipyards over the next 20 years.