- The USS Boxer dumped fuel into the ocean, which contaminated its own water supply.
- Military.com reported on Thursday that the 2016 incident left several sailors aboard sick.
- It’s one of several US Navy ships to have fuel-contaminated water in recent years.
A US Navy ship intentionally dumped fuel into the ocean and in the process accidentally contaminated its own water supply, sickening sailors for years after the incident, according to a new report published on Thursday.
An investigation by Military.com into the USS Boxer revealed that the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship unknowingly polluted its own water supply on a 2016 deployment when it dumped fuel tanks suspected of contamination overboard while the ship was dead in the water, leading water intakes to immediately draw the polluted water back into the vessel. A Marine veteran from that deployment told Insider they drank and showered in the contaminated water for as long as a few weeks.
The incident occurred on March 15 after the Boxer took on nearly 400,000 gallons of fuel from the supply ship USNS Wally Schirra in the Sea of Japan. Later that day, sailors were ordered to dump diesel fuel for reasons that are unclear to Military.com, although it reported that dumps typically happen when fuel becomes contaminated.
Fuel was dumped on one side of the Boxer, and on the other side, intakes suck in seawater that’s then heated and condensed to make potable water. These systems will filter out salt and sediment, but not fuel — it will evaporate with the water and infiltrate the drinking water. The ship has to keep moving to avoid contaminating itself, but after it was dumped, the engine’s thrust was cut.
Boxer’s crew soon noticed the smell of fuel in the drinking water, and Marines and sailors told Military.com that Boxer leadership had claimed that the water was safe to drink.
Machinist’s Mate Chief Michael Gonzales, who was the oil lab’s leading chief petty officer at the time, said in a statement to Military.com that there were no indications that the Boxer’s potable water had been contaminated.
But Daniel Martin, then a Marine assigned to the ship, strenuously disagreed. Martin recalls the ship’s commanding officer acknowledging that fuel had been measured in the parts per million in an address to the crew, which had bought all the water bottles from the ship’s store in the wake of the pollution.
Martin told Insider on Thursday that he drank and showered in fuel-contaminated water for a period of time between several days and a few weeks. In a previous interview with Insider, Martin said he had purchased caffeinated flavoring packets to mask the water’s taste after being notified that he would have to keep drinking the water until the traces of fuel washed out.
“We were just told that it’ll go away,” Martin recalled of his time on the Boxer during a 2022 interview.
Crew members reported ailments like skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems immediately after the fuel dump, while others say they have developed health problems — like lung cysts, cancer, and irritable bowel — in the years since the incident, according to Military.com.
A Naval Surface Force spokesperson confirmed to Military.com that the Boxer identified “traces of fuel” in its water supply while on deployment in 2016. The spokesperson said the Boxer’s leadership took “immediate and appropriate” action to restrict access to the potable water system, which was eventually flushed. The Navy did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the Military.com report.
The Boxer is not the only US Navy ship to be stricken with contaminated water over the last few years. The service found that water aboard the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Abraham Lincoln was polluted with jet fuel, and bilge water and bacteria, respectively.
One sailor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln told Insider in an interview last year that the ship’s water tasted “horrible” and they couldn’t “escape it.”
Several veterans told Insider that sailors on US Navy flattops have been drinking and bathing in contaminated water for decades and across multiple different ships, including aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.