Monday, February 27, 2006

U.S. Navy Forced to Sink Its Ships


Strategy Page
February 27, 2006

The U.S. Navy is having a hard time getting rid of old ships. So it is going to sink more of them.

For a long time, unneeded ships were "sent to the breakers" (a shipyard that broke the ship up for scrap and reusable parts). However, this is now considered environmentally harmful if done the old fashioned way (as it is still done in countries like India), and too expensive if it is done in an environmentally (and politically) acceptable way. So what's the navy to do with retired ships? It's no longer politically acceptable to allow foreign (and environmentally incorrect) countries do it. For the nonce, the U.S. Navy has been putting old ships "in reserve" (tying them up somewhere until someone can come up with a solution.)

Well, a solution appears to be a hand. Sink the old ships where they can serve as an underwater reef, a place where underwater creatures can set up housekeeping. This is, for the moment, considered environmentally acceptable. And so it comes to pass that the former USS Oriskany will be sunk this Summer, off the coast of Florida. The Oriskany was an aircraft carrier, built in 1950, and retired in 1975. It was in reserve until sent to the breakers in 1995. But two years later, the company that was supposed to break the ship up, backed out of the deal. Thus the ship remained tied up. The Oriskany had experience just waiting around. Construction on the ship began in October, 1945, but was suspended, although nearly complete, in 1947 because, with World War II over, the U.S. had more than enough aircraft carriers. But when the Korean war came along, work was resumed, and within six months, the Orisikany was off to war.

The 32,000 ton Oriskany will be sunk, some 40 kilometers off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in 212 feet of water. All hatches and doors will be removed, and explosives will breach the hull to sink the "Mighty O." If there are no untoward complications, many more decommissioned U.S. warships will receive the same treatment.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Navy gets final approval to sink retired aircraft carrier


Daytona Beach News
February 16, 2006

PENSACOLA -- The U.S. Navy received final approval Wednesday to sink a retired aircraft carrier off the Florida coast and create the first of many planned artificial reefs from former warships.

The USS Oriskany, a famed Korean and Vietnam War ship, is expected to arrive in Pensacola in early March, and the target date for its sinking off Pensacola Beach is May 15, said retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and a longtime advocate for the Oriskany project.

The Oriskany is the first of more than 20 ships the Navy hopes to dispose of through reefing, and it went through a lengthy permitting process with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The permit issued by the agency Wednesday allows the carrier to be sunk with toxic PCBs in its paint, insulation and other ship parts. The EPA said the chemicals would slowly leach as the carrier rusts, and would pose no danger to marine life or humans.

Hurricanes were among the reasons for delays in the Oriskany permitting process. The ship had been towed from Pensacola to Texas to ride out the 2005 hurricane season.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Wreck attracts record numbers


Sunshine Coast Daily
By Toby Walker
February 12, 2006

THE Sunshine Coast now has another tourism ace up its sleeve with the wreck of the former HMAS Brisbane attracting divers in record numbers.

Dive operators have reported significant boosts to their businesses since the ship was scuttled last July.

The prolific growth of the artificial reef around the wreck has taken everyone by surprise, attracting about 800 dives a month.

The wreck has found favour with international and interstate divers, with local operators reporting a huge increase in visitors heading to the Coast specifically to visit the ship.

Blue Water Dive employee and experienced dive instructor Rebecca Turner said she chose to look for work on the Sunshine Coast over more established dive destinations in north Queensland because of the HMAS Brisbane.

“I think where once you would get people from overseas who would fly into Brisbane and then head straight up to the Great Barrier Reef, now they’re coming here first because it’s a lot closer,” she said.

“It’s not as commercialised or sausage-factory-like down here either, and I think that’s one of the big things going for it – divers can still get that personalised experience.”

Mooloolaba’s Scuba World employee Michael McKinnon said the wreck had been sunk in an ideal position that protected it from severe currents and tides, making it the ideal dive destination for experienced divers and those just starting out.

“We used to be going out most weekends and maybe once during the week if the weather conditions were right,” he said.

“Over the summer we were going out six days a week.

“There are a few wrecks off Sydney but they’re around 60 metres down and more for advanced divers.

“The Brisbane is a 20-minute trip from Mooloolaba and 27 metres down, so even people who have just done their course can still go down and at least hang around the deck level, which is about 18 metres down.”

Sunreef Dive Centre co-owner Greg Riddell was also happy to report the boom in business had been “phenomenal”.

He said he had taken a number of former crew members of the HMAS Brisbane on dives to visit their former ship and felt the wreck had finally delivered the underwater destination the local dive industry had needed.

“The corals and the colour on the Gneerings Shoals at the local reef was where most people used to go but there was no big icon like a cave or a sinkhole that draws divers to a location,” he said.

“Just because you have a nice reef, it doesn’t mean people will travel halfway round the world to see a coral, but they do come to see something like the Brisbane.”


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pensacolans ready to dive the 'Mighty O'


By Melissa Nelson
February 11, 2006

PENSACOLA, Florida -- The "Mighty O" saw action in Korea and Vietnam and was home base of U.S. Sen. John McCain before he was taken captive by the North Vietnamese, but the aircraft carrier's greatest fame could come when it's on the ocean floor.

If all goes according to plan this summer, explosives will be placed throughout the largely hollowed-out shell of the USS Oriskany and it will plummet 210 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

But first, it has to get back to Pensacola from its hurricane-season mooring with the U.S. Maritime Administration's Beaumont Reserve Fleet southeast of town, which also had been its home from 1999 to early 2004 while its fate was being decided.

Hurricane-weary Pensacolans are counting on the Navy's long-delayed sinking of the Oriskany to resurrect their city's slumbering tourism industry. The ship, featured in the films "The Bridges of Toko Ri" and "The Men of the Fighting Lady," would become the world's largest intentionally created man-made reef, drawing divers worldwide.

But nothing has gone according to plan since the Navy announced Pensacola's selection for a program to reef old warships two years ago. Hurricanes, EPA permitting problems, even the death of a lead project scientist, have contributed to delays in the ship's sinking.

Many Pensacolans are jaded about the Oriskany, which was first towed to Pensacola in December 2004, only to be towed back to Texas in June 2005 to ride out the 2005 hurricane season.

In a May 2005 Enterprise story, Pat Dolan, public affairs officer for the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C., was quoted as saying the Oriskany was being sent back to Beaumont because there was no mooring in Pensacola tough enough to hold the giant ship in case of hurricane-force winds and waves, which it endured as Hurricane Rita came screaming into Southeast Texas.

"A lot of people just want to see this thing in the water," said Jim Phillips, owner of MBT Dive Shop in Pensacola. "We can talk until we are blue in the face but until the EPA issues the permit, it isn't going to happen."

Sinking the Oriskany before the start of the 2006 hurricane season hinges on the EPA issuing a permit this month declaring the Navy has met the agency's criteria for removing contaminants known as PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls.

If the permit comes through, the Navy will tow the Oriskany from Beaumont back to Pensacola and the three-month process of preparing the ship for sinking can begin.

Capt. Larry Jones, head of the Navy's inactive ship program, told an auditorium of anxious Pensacolans in January the prospects of seeing the ship underwater this summer look good.

"I know you want (the Oriskany) and I want you to have it," he said to cheers from the crowd. Audience members offered hundreds of letters in support of the sinking at the EPA hearing.

If the Oriskany goes down as planned, 23 ships that are part of the Navy's inactive fleet could become eligible for sinking.

The cost of the Oriskany project to date is $12.7 million - more than four times the $2.8 million Congress appropriated in 2003 to dispose of the ship. Jones defended the price tag, saying the $2.8 million was never intended to fully fund the pilot program. And he noted reefing is a much less expensive alternative to scrapping, which could cost $24 million.

It's the money the Oriskany would bring once it's under the water that has Florida Panhandle business owners anxious to see the ship on the ocean floor.

A much-touted 2004 Florida State University study estimated Escambia County would see $92 million a year in economic benefits from an artificial reef - a cash infusion desperately needed in an area hard hit by hurricanes.

"Just the draw on the sinking alone could do more for our economy than any other single event has been able to do," said Robert Turpin, director of Marine Resource for Escambia County and the person who brought the Oriskany to the attention of local planners.

"This would be a very, very bright spot after a gloomy couple of years. But I hope I'm not jinxing anything by saying that."

More than 2,500 Oriskany veterans made plans to come to Pensacola for the first scheduled sinking in the summer of 2004. The city invited McCain as the keynote speaker. But the sinking was delayed by EPA permitting problems and Hurricane Ivan, which slammed Pensacola's coastline that fall.

"I cannot imagine a greater disappointment than not getting the Oriskany this year. Our people have invested financially, emotionally, in so many, many, ways they have invested themselves in the Oriskany," said Ed Schroeder, tourism director for the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

At a Pensacola Mardi Gras parade on Feb. 25, Phillips, the MBT Dive Shop owner, will again display a 40-foot-long plywood Oriskany float, complete with a rotating radar antenna, that he built three years ago. He said the float is a sign of his optimism that that real Oriskany will eventually return to Pensacola.

Others are less optimistic.

"I've had a lot of people ask me ... 'Can we go ahead and sink the float instead?'" Phillips said.

Eilene Beard, a dive shop owner and Pensacola native who donated $25,000 in retirement savings to help the community promote the Oriskany project, believes she will dive the real thing this year.

"From the moment she goes down, she'll create sounds in the water and the sandstorm that she will cause will draw fish that want to see what it is. It will begin to attract life immediately," Beard said. "We have had calls from England, Germany, Japan, Thailand. They are all ready to dive the Oriskany."

SOURCE - Beaumont Enterprise


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reef to mimic the `lost city'


The Miami Herald
By Susan Cocking
January 29, 2006

IN THE WORKS: Construction of an artificial reef
Key Biscayne is scheduled to begin in March. Final
approval for the project came earlier this month.

An artificial reef being planned off Key Biscayne would offer an entertaining re-creation of the lost city of Atlantis.
Miami-Dade County may get its most unusual artificial reef ever with the re-creation of the lost city of Atlantis in the ocean 3 ¼ miles off Key Biscayne this spring.

Gary Levine's Atlantis Reef Project received final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management earlier this month to construct the sprawling network of cement and bronze statues in 50 feet of water. Levine says construction should begin in March, with the first phase ready to receive divers at the end of April. Levine said the reef will take three to five years to complete at a cost of between $3 million and $5 million.

''It will be five concentric circles, 900 feet in diameter, as big as three football fields,'' Levine said. ``You can see it from the air as a compass pointing due north. There will be 40 specific themed sculptures incorporating the elements you'd have in any city -- arts, government, the military, theater.''

While most of the structures will be made of concrete, utilizing up to 10,000 cubic yards of material, there will also be some bronze statues sculpted by Kim Brandell, who is famous for the stainless steel globe at Donald Trump's headquarters in New York.

Graphic illustrations are done by Joey Burns, who designed the interior of the Sultan of Brunei's private jet, Levine said.

Levine envisions Atlantis Reef as an attraction for divers; haven for fish, lobster and other marine creatures; coral nursery; underwater laboratory -- and memorial reef.

Since Miami-Dade County is not financing the project, Levine proposes to raise money through donors who pay to have their cremated remains incorporated into Atlantis' columns and balustrades.

''Instead of getting sprinkled in the ocean, you're inside a three-foot column,'' Levine said. ``You can be memorialized in this underwater city.''
At this point, he said, there are about a dozen people who have signed up for the underwater memorials.