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Maintenance lapses led to water contamination on two carriers

Drinking water contamination on two Navy aircraft carriers last year was caused by maintenance lapses, two Navy investigations released this week say.

A bad gasket on the Bremerton, Washington-based aircraft carrier Nimitz allowed jet fuel to leak into a drinking water tank, one investigation found.

On the San Diego-based carrier Abraham Lincoln bilge water leaked from a hole in a corroded pipe into its drinking water, resulting in E. coli bacteria contamination, according to the second investigation.


The Navy faulted the crews on both ships for not identifying the deficiencies and making repairs in time to prevent the contamination.

Sailors on the Nimitz first noticed their water smelled and tasted like fuel in September, while the ship was training off the coast of California. It spent two week moored at Naval Air Station North Island where its water system was flushed with municipal water.

The investigation found the bad gasket on an unused water tank had gone undetected during the ship's 2020 deployment. When the crew brought the tank back online in 2022, the fuel spread through its water system.

Eleven sailors on board were sickened but returned to normal duty by early October.

About a week after Nimitz' water problems arose, sailors on another carrier at sea off the California coast noticed their water had a foul taste, odor and videos shared on social media showed it was cloudy and discolored.


Tests showed bacteria, including E. coli, was present in the water. The ship isolated some contaminated tanks and remained at sea for two weeks. Sailors on board told the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time people on board survived on sports drinks and sodas.

According to the investigation, bilge water leaked into a drinking water tank through a hole in a corroded pipe.

Bilges are tanks near the bottom of the ship that collect wastewater from the ship's drains.

The Navy faulted the sailors in charge of the system for not acting on tests from as early as January 2022 that showed bacterial contamination.

The pipe was repaired and the system cleaned and flushed.

No sailors fell ill due to the contamination, the Navy said.