Ghost fleets and shipwrecks in Virginia
The Maritime Administration has been whittling away at these 'environmental disasters waiting to happen' for many years. The challenge is that they don't recycle easily or cheaply.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - 17:08
Photo: Mary Ann Moxon
These mothballed ships are officially called the James River Reserve Fleet and they used to be numbered in the hundreds — as many as 700 after World War II. But those of us who frequently drive down Colonial Parkway along the James River still call these anchored obsolete ships the "ghost fleet." Their numbers have diminished since I first saw them "up close and personal" in 2003 and again in 2006 as we warily sailed by. Two were towed away recently, leaving less than 10 now. Good riddance to these old relics.
They have been called "an environmental disaster waiting to happen" by many because of the toxic chemicals, PCBs, mercury and petroleum products still inside many of them. Today's double-hulled ships are much safer, although any ship can spring a leak. At the beginning of every hurricane season since we moved to Virginia, I always remember they are lurking out on my river. I recently learned that the USS Arizona's oil continues to leak into Pearl Harbor, so our concerns are not without warrant.
Suisan Bay, Calif., and Beaumont, Texas, are also home to other ghost fleets whose days of glory are long gone. Some never even had glory days. The two behemoths that recently left the James River (near Fort Eustis), the Benjamin Isherwood and Henry Eckford, were out of vogue before they were finished. Talk about a waste of federal funds!
The U.S. Maritime Administration (NARAD) has been whittling away at these fleets for many years. The challenge is that these ships don't recycle easily or cheaply. They are sold for scrap metal, but dismantling them is a mammoth task.
These "concrete ships" off Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake near Cape Charles are also rather creepy-looking. These nine Liberty ships were deliberately sunk in 1948 to form a breakwater and they now provide a super fishing spot, plus a great nesting spot for local seabirds. No nasty stuff in their holds or bilges, I hope.
Other hazardous corroding wrecks still linger off Virginia's Atlantic coastline. One sank in 1983 with 3,600 barrels of fuel oil in it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has inventoried more than 30,000 coastal shipwrecks along our country's coasts and identified 233 as the worst threats. The Coast Guard will receive this list by the end of 2011 and begin to prioritize which ones need attention first.
Supposedly the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund will cover these costs. The oil industry owes us this much, in my humble opinion. Those subsidies are not for naught!
Photo: Mary Ann Moxon