Wednesday, March 29, 2006

China Plans to Make Russian Aircraft Carrier Into Artificial Reef

March 28, 2006

A Russian aircraft carrier converted into a theme park in the southern Chinese town of Shenzhen could find its final resting place as an artificial reef in Hong Kong waters, DPA news agency reported on Tuesday.

The agency quoted an article in the China Morning Post daily which said that the plan to turn the 40,000-tonne ’Minsk’ into a marine life haven had been proposed by marine specialist Charlie Frew after the unsuccessful auction of the ship earlier this year.

Frew has suggested towing the 271-metre-long ship 10 km from its current location to the waters off Hong Kong’s eastern New Territories and sinking it between two islands near Sai Kung.

’If the ship was sunk in position between the islands, it would lead to a rapid expansion in fish stocks, would encourage the growth of native corals and provide a focal point for the rejuvenation of underwater life for the entire eastern coastline of Hong Kong,’ he said.

Frew has asked several government offices, including the marine and environmental protection departments, to help acquire the vessel.

The Minsk, with a complement of 32 aircraft, was launched in 1975 but was retired in 1993 after an accident. The vessel was later sold to the Shenzhen Minsk Aircraft Carrier Industry Co, which created a theme park, Minsk World, around the carrier.

The company recently went out of business, and the carrier was put up for auction with a reserve price of 128 million yuan ($16 million), but failed to attract a single bid.

’Imagine the economic windfall and recreational attraction,’ Frew said, touting his plan. ’It would be the largest ship sunk in the Asia-Pacific region. The Minsk could do more good at the bottom of the sea than it ever did afloat.’


Thursday, March 23, 2006

USS Oriskany returns to Pensacola


The Ledger
By Melissa Nelson
March 22, 2006

A famed Vietnam-era aircraft carrier returned to Pensacola Wednesday where the Navy plans to sink it this May as the world's largest intentionally created reef.

USS Oriskany veterans and tourists with binoculars mingled among the sunbathers on the beach at Pensacola Naval Air Station as they watched tow boats bring the ship into port.

"We are going to sink this sucker," said Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Dan White of Minneapolis, a World War II Navy pilot from Minneapolis who wanted to see the historic ship's return.

The Oriskany was first towed to Pensacola in December 2004, only to be towed back to Beaumont, Texas, in June to ride out the 2005 hurricane season. Hurricane-weary Pensacolans are counting on the ship's long-delayed sinking to resurrect the city's slumbering tourism industry by brining in sport divers and fisherman.

If the Oriskany is sunk according to plan on May 17, it would become the first Navy ship scuttled under a pilot program to reef old warships.

"There's no greater dignity for a Navy vessel than to be buried at sea. We should all be celebrating that it wasn't scrapped. If that had happened, we would be using it as razor blades," said Bob Swievel, who served as the division officer on the Oriskany in Vietnam from 1975 to 1976.

U.S. Sen. John McCain flew off the Oriskany before he was taken captive in Vietnam. The Oriskany, which also saw combat in Korea, was featured in movies "The Bridges of Toko Ri" and "The Men of the Fighting Lady."

Today, the famed aircraft carrier looks more like an eerie ghost ship than a U.S. Navy vessel because of its rust-streaked exterior and largely dismantled bridge and decking.

"She's an old rust bucket now," said Navy port operator Brad Long as he watched the ship pull up port side.

Navy crews and contractors will spend the next two months cutting holes in the Oriskany's bulkhead and securing its doors hatches to prepare for the May sinking when explosives will placed on board and the ship will go down in 210 feet of water about 22 miles off the Pensacola coast.

The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the sinking to go forward last month when it issued long-delayed final permit for disposal of chemical toxins known as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs aboard the ship.

"We have no time to waste. Everything we do is targeting to getting the sinking done before the start of hurricane season," said Harry White, spokesman for Pensacola Naval Air Station.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shattered wreck poses greater danger

By Chuck Churchouse
March 21, 2006

Fresh tales of the shattered remains of the frigate Wellington report twisted and torn metal, a darkened wreck and a surge that threatens to impale divers.

Some of the first divers to visit the wreck since it was ripped into three pieces by 12-metre seas say they have a new respect for the power of the ocean.

Joanne Long dived on the bow section of the ship – off Island Bay, Wellington – on Saturday and described it as darker and less inviting than it had been, with "jagged edges as if it had been opened by a giant tin-opener".

"You could still hear it groaning," she said. "It's a mess."

The ship's hull snapped in stormy seas two weeks ago, the stern section disintegrating further as it was pushed about 50 metres across the sea floor.

The ship was declared off limits till till police divers had checked it out.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast was one of the first to dive on the ship when it was sunk as a dive attraction in November. After seeing it at the weekend, she said it resembled a "metal can that had been twisted and torn apart".
"It's not just like it's broken in half . . . the hull has been dimpled. The end that has snapped off is just twisted metal. It's incredible. This is thick metal."

Commercial trips to the wreck resumed on Friday after the harbourmaster lifted the exclusion zone around the wreck.

The police dive squad told charter operators the stern section was so badly damaged that divers could be impaled on exposed metal by underwater swells.

Dive companies have changed their pre-dive instructions to warn divers of the new dangers and have forbidden entry into the wreck unless divers are specially qualified.

"The biggest change now is the orientation, less escape routes and you have to treat it a lot more carefully," Splash Gordon dive skipper Dave Watson said.

"We're telling people not to go in it, and I am quite forceful about that."

Some divers were not heeding the warnings, but till more exploration had taken place people needed to be careful, Mr Watson said.

For all the potential danger, diver feedback was getting better.

Island Bay Divers' Tim Walshe said customers were saying the wreck was a far more exciting dive than when intact.

Mr Watson said the new wreck was keeping people talking.

"They seem to be genuinely saying it's a better dive than it was. Before it was a hulk; now it's a true wreck. Even the police divers are still discussing it."


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Navy shipwreck in Wellington to reopen

March 15, 2006

Divers will be allowed back into the water tomorrow to dive on the old navy frigate Wellington off the south coast of Wellington.

However, they have been warned it is too dangerous to go inside the two stern sections of the wreck which can still be heard "creaking and groaning" as they move in the underwater tidal currents at Island Bay.

The ship was ripped into three pieces during a big southerly storm 10 days ago and was closed to divers for safety reasons.

Wellington Regional Harbour Master, Captain Mike Pryce, was expected to lift the dive ban at midday tomorrow.

He said the bow section remained in the same place, pointing south into Cook Strait and held in place by the eight-tonne anchor which was attached to the ship when it was sunk last November.

However, he said divers should be extremely careful and should think about diving inside the bow section only with a commercial diver.

Captain Pryce said the stern section, thought to be about 2000 tonnes, broke off the bow section behind the gun turret and had broken in two again, leaving the wreck in three pieces.

The bow section was intact and lying on its side but the two stern sections had been flattened by the huge swells.

"You can still hear creaking and groaning. It has been beaten flat."

Until 10 days ago divers had been swimming through the ship, in and out of internal doors and through the large number of holes cut in the side when it was sunk.

"You can't swim through it any more. You can only swim into a little alcove and come back out again," Captain Pryce said.

He said police divers had recommended divers to dive on the wreck but not to try and swim through it.

Captain Pryce said the frigate was a relatively light ship and it was no surprise it had broken into three bits so soon.

He said the number of holes cut in the lightweight hull would have weakened the ship and hastened its demise.

He said the two stern sections were not likely to move further ashore as they were against a rising back.

The swell which broke the ship into three pieces was estimated to be 12 metres.

When the hull broke in half the stern section pivoted on its embedded propeller shaft and was now facing north west.

The lower decks of the ship were crushed and the upper decks had dropped onto them, said the F69 rust which sank the ship.

"The engine room and boiler room, both large unsupported rooms, have collapsed, making a gap of approx 10m were the remains of this part of the structure lay crushed between," said trust chairman Marco Zeeman.

"Basically the ship has been flattened midships of the main structure with the bow and remaining upper two sections of the ship intact. There is a debris zone on the seaward side and mid-section of the ship and between the bridge and bow section," he said.

He said the ship was not expected to break up so quickly.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Dive-wreck frigate ruled off-limits


The New Zealand Herald
March 09, 2006

The wreck of the old frigate Wellington has broken in half off Island Bay in Wellington and has been declared off-limits to divers.

The ship was sunk as an artificial reef and dive zone last November and has been visited by scores of divers. A month after the sinking the trust that sank the ship said it was showing no signs of movement.

However, a storm that swept Wellington's south coast last week snapped the ship in half behind its twin gun turret.

The bow section fell on to its starboard side and was held in place by the eight-tonne anchor that was attached to the bow when it was sunk.

However, the big waves pushed the stern section around and it was now closer to the shore and facing northwest and not south, the direction it was facing when it was sunk, Marco Zeeman, the chairman of the F69 Trust that sunk the ship said yesterday.

A 200m no-dive zone has been declared around the ship until Thursday next week by regional harbour master Captain Mike Pryce.

He said trust and police divers were evaluating the ship.

"There is no navigational risk, but a large number of divers explore the wreck and we need to be sure the F69 is still a safe place to dive," he said.

Mr Zeeman said the ship had broken in half in an identical fashion to another Leander class frigate, the former HMNZS Waikato, sunk as a dive attraction off the Northland Coast at Tutukaka, north of Whangarei.

Last May, Mr Zeeman said Waikato had a known weak spot behind the turret and in front of the bridge. Wellington was a stronger ship.

The stern section, probably about 2000 tonnes, was now lying at right angles to the bow and had moved closer to the shore.

Mr Zeeman said initial observations "suggest that it is unlikely to move any further towards the shore were such a weather event to occur in the coming weeks".

He said the events of the weekend were expected during the life of the ship and were covered fully in the resource consent process.

"It was unfortunate that a 1-in-50-year weather event should occur so soon after she was sunk. However, the fact that the vessel has broken in two is in line with what was expected and consistent with the Waikato."

An Island Bay resident predicted this week that the ship would break in half in the big seas.

Ken Findlay, who swims at the beach every day, said the government and local authorities should cut up the ship and remove it from the seabed.

Mr Findlay was not surprised at the news of the breakup when told about it yesterday.

Debris from the ship washed up from the beach last weekend and Mr Findlay said he knew then it would break up in spite of a conversation he had with Mr Zeeman, who said it would remain intact.

Another local resident, Nick Dryden, said the sea had "made a mockery of man's feeble attempts".

He said the breakup of the ship was inevitable in the big waves. He said it was not a 1-in-50-year storm.

"It was only a 12-hour blow and never really got that big. It was more like a one in three or four times a year storm really."

He said time would tell how far the wreck would move towards the shore.

"I don't see what is going to stop it," he said. "I am not glad about this. I am very sad about this."


Thursday, March 09, 2006

King Kong boat could become dive attraction


The New Zealand Herald

Fresh from scuttling HMNZS Wellington, Marco Zeeman has a plan to sink the ship featured in King Kong, off Mana Island near Wellington.

The scheme would involve the underwriting of up to $400,000 from Porirua City Council.

Mr Zeeman, last month named Wellingtonian of the Year for his work in turning the decommissioned navy frigate Wellington into a dive wreck, wants to do the same with the Kong ship.

The plans were "very premature" at this stage, Mr Zeeman said, but he was positive about continuing the artificial reef concept after the F69 sinking.

"A vessel off Porirua would have large benefits for the community. If there's a possibility to put a shipwreck off Mana Island, why not?"

The F69 Trust chairman helped director Peter Jackson with the nautical logistics of filming the Kong movie.

The ship, originally called Manuia but renamed Venture to keep faith with the original story and screenplay, was bought by ship surveyor Roger Kempthorne after it was no longer needed for filming.

A 26-metre-deep area to the north-east of Mana Island had been identified as an ideal sinking site.

Full details of the proposal -- dubbed Project Venture -- would be discussed at a council meeting on Wednesday night -- just as the movie has its New Zealand premiere.

It is understood there is some nervousness in the council about the project's financial viability and the seaworthiness of the 55m freighter, which would have to be taken out to its final resting place.

Film crew were forced to abandon the ship during filming in March when it sprang a leak and began to take on water off Kapiti Coast. Emergency repairs were carried out and it returned to Wellington. It has been moored at Miramar Wharf since.

Another option is to sink it in a 2000-metre-deep seabed trench off the south coast.

Council chief executive Roger Blakeley was reluctant to talk about the proposal till a report, containing budget implications, was completed.

Mayor Jenny Brash confirmed talks with Mr Zeeman were held and suggested financial backing from an established trust could provide a funding alternative.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Artificial reef proposal criticized


West Hawaii Today
By Carolyn Lucas
March 05, 2006

A nonprofit group is trying to get approval to scuttle
the USS Mauna Kea, above, along the sandy bottom
of Paaoao Bay. - U.S. Navy Photo

Opponents say Ship-sinking plan creates hazard

A controversial proposal that would scuttle a Cold War-era ammunition freighter offshore of the Big Island, in the sandy bottom seaward of Paaoao Bay, drew strong opposition Friday at a state Department of Land and Natural Resources public hearing.

The hostility toward the West Hawaii Artificial Reef Foundation's plan was as real as the growl in a Rottweiler's throat. Several people vowed to organize and legally challenge it.

"We will fight you," said Teresa Nakama of Kahu O' Kahiko, interrupting WHARF's presentation at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa.

Out of an approximately 50-member audience, 13 people testified -- eight opposed and five supported the proposal.

WHARF is a nonprofit organization comprised of three West Hawaii men who have an interest in the ocean environment and activities. Since the mid-1970s, they visited Kona, "fell in the love with the island" and eventually moved here. It is their "dream" to have a "world-class wreck diving site," said Rick Decker, WHARF treasurer.

Patrick Cunningham, a commercial operator at Keauhou Bay, shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe what they are proposing. Another group wants to put more pollutants in the water," he said. "I just heard a gentleman say he moved here because he thought it was beautiful. Has it changed? There was no ship when he first visited here. We have deep, AA pristine waters. Leave them alone."

Cunningham asked who would operate and manage the ship as well as who would assume the liability if the ship is damaged or if pollutants come into the ocean.

Nakama mentioned the Honolulu harbors, which were "filled with pollutants from ships" and "you can't even eat the fish."

"Sinking an old ship constitutes a hazard to navigation and it is virtually impossible to rid these ships absolutely clean of its oils, grease, asbestos and other toxic substances," she said.

Jeff Leicher, Jack's Diving Locker owner, has dove wrecks on Oahu. He acknowledged the Honolulu harbors were polluted, but said those artificial reefs may not be the cause. He also claimed to know people who do eat the fish there.

Before the scuttling can occur, WHARF must raise more than $750,000 for cleaning costs and obtain four permits. The state would own the ship, the Mauna Kea, which is currently moored in Suisan Bay, Calif., with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration. WHARF supports the restriction of commercial and private launching from Keauhou Bay as well as a user fee, which would fund community conservation projects. It also wants to relocate the Kona crabs or have all the crabbers fish the decapods out of the area.

Cunningham reminded the audience that the state does not have the funds or manpower to manage this submerged vessel reef. He claimed the boat ramp at Keauhou Bay reached its capacity long ago and mentioned the parking and bathroom problems.

"What if I don't want to pay a fee? Who is going to stop me? You, Rick? The state?" said Mike Nakachi, Aloha Dive Company owner. "Maybe I am that one percent in the dive industry that doesn't want that wreck. And I love to go diving on wrecks. But in other places. Not here. So go ahead and throw stones at my boat. I can't support this project."

The Mauna Kea would undergo a thorough cleaning that meets standards of the U.S. Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"There are all these concerns about toxicity," said Wayne Burger, Jack's Diving Locker instructor. "There are rules and laws to ensure that the ship is cleaned to the utmost degree."

Before deployment, holes at least four feet by four feet will be cut into compartments and decks to promote water circulation, increase light penetration, enhance fish habitation and permit safe diving. To minimize hazards, all doors and hatches will be removed or welded. Mooring buoys will also be permanently installed at the site to provide easy access and prevent future damage from boat anchors.

For several years, WHARF has sought input, raised funds and conducted surveys for a submerged vessel reef. The organization admitted to having trouble contacting fishermen and some cultural groups. It recently submitted a draft Environmental Impact Statement of its project to DLNR, which is still taking written testimony. The EIS can be viewed at

WHARF claims the sinking of the retired 511-foot Mauna Kea has redeeming ecological and economical value.

"It's not just the dive industry that will benefit," Burger said. "The airlines, hotels, restaurants and boat rental industry will benefit as well. It will bring people here and give us money to support infrastructure. This is what this island needs."

The motives for the project were questioned by some.

"Man makes his own destruction," said Lily Kong of Ka Ohana O Kupuna O Kona. "Today, money is the greed of man. We need to take care of what we have now. Why pollute our waters?"

Several people testified that the only real economic benefits are to dive shops and tour charters.

Serving as an artificial reef, the ship would create a new reef habitat for fish and other marine life, increase the island's aquatic tourism industry and reduce pressures on West Hawaii's natural coral reefs. It also would develop a unique platform for academic and research organizations to study marine life, such as fish and other marine species population counts, Decker said.

South of Keauhou Bay, Decker said 90 to 130 feet below the ocean's surface the Mauna Kea will lie on a "flat sandy bottom, void of coral and lava." This location was surveyed, photographed and video taped sporadically. WHARF stated "an artificial reef in this generally unproductive, coral-barren area should have minimal, if any, environmental impact."

State aquatic biologist Bill Walsh dove the proposed site on Jan. 20. In a Division of Aquatic Resources report, he claims the bottom habitat "appears to be suitable for artificial reef deployment," but does not say whether he opposes or supports the project. Underwater, he uncovered a large Kona crab within the first minute of hitting bottom at 120 feet as well as several scallop shells scattered about.

"There is an extensive sand plain extending as far as the eye can see in the vicinity of the drop location. The slope is very shallow and essentially appears flat when you're down there," Walsh said. "While the bottom is sand, showing ripples from long shore currents, it is by no means devoid of life. On the contrary, it appeared to be a very productive sand community undoubtedly with lots of mollusks and crustaceans."

For Nakama, this is no scientific reason or report that states "our pristine ocean is dead with no life."

"Just because you don't see marine life with your naked eyes or all you presently see is just a sandy bottom, and with that you justify you need to put a toxic metal pollutant in our pristine ocean," Nakama said. "Our marine life that thrives in our sandy bottom and lives in cycles. It has taken our pristine ocean many millions of years to shape the sandy areas. The marine life of urchins, mollusk, octopus, flounders, weke and marine plants depends on our sandy bottom and all of these we eat. Let me repeat that, we consume these marine animals for consumption. How dare you poison us?"


Monday, March 06, 2006

Diver paradise: Ship to be sunk for man-made reef


March 03, 2006

The USS Oriskany will plummet 210 feet
to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico this
summer if things go as planned.

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, explosives will be placed throughout the largely hollowed-out shell of the USS Oriskany in May and it will plummet 210 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The ship, featured in the films "The Bridges of Toko Ri" and "The Men of the Fighting Lady," will become the world's largest intentionally created man-made reef, drawing divers and sport fisherman worldwide.

Eileen Beard, who owns the Scuba Shack, a local dive shop, said she and many other divers are making plans to explore the Oriskany underwater 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."

After nearly two years of delays since the Navy first announced Pensacola as the site of a pilot program to reef old warships, the Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval in February to sink the ship.

Local leaders are counting on the sinking to bring their city's tourism industry out of a hurricane-induced slump.

"In the long haul you are looking at the rebirth of one of the historically successful industries of Pensacola, that's the fishing and diving industry. The Oriskany puts Pensacola on the plans for virtually any diver and fisherman in the country," said Ed Schroeder, tourism director for the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

More than 2,500 Oriskany veterans made plans to come to Pensacola for the first scheduled sinking of the Oriskany in the summer of 2004. The group was courting McCain as their keynote speaker.

But the sinking never took place. The Oriskany was not towed to Pensacola until December 2004; it was then towed back to Texas in June to ride out the 2005 hurricane season.

Now the Navy plans to tow the Oriskany from Beaumont, Texas, back to Pensacola in March to begin the three-month process of preparing the ship for sinking.

Retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and a longtime advocate for the Oriskany project, said the ship could be sunk May 15, but that date could change.

Regardless of the exact date the ship goes down, a celebration will soon be in order.

"Now that we have the permit and we are all set with the tentative date .... this is a big feat for Pensacola," Fetterman said.

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


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oriskany sinking set for May 17


Pensacola News Journal
By William Rabb
March 02, 2006

If all goes according to plan, the Oriskany will sink to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 17, and scuba divers could be allowed on the decommissioned aircraft carrier as soon as two days later, local and Navy officials said Wednesday.

"To all those disbelievers who said this would never happen, I accept your apologies," joked retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, who has spearheaded the effort to secure the famed Navy ship, during a meeting on the project at the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Oriskany, which saw duty in the Korean and Vietnam wars, will become the first aircraft carrier to be scuttled deliberately as an artificial reef so close to shore -- 22.5 miles south of Pensacola.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval for the sinking last month. Navy officials said Wednesday that the ship should return to the Pensacola Naval Air Station next Wednesday from Texas, where it rode out the 2005 hurricane season.

Work will begin shortly to clean it up and prepare it for sinking, said Capt. Pete Frano, commanding officer of Pensacola NAS.

Navy and county officials outlined several key points about the sinking, which has been three years in the making and is expected to draw hundreds of tourists annually:

No one other than workers will be allowed on the ship while it is being prepared for sinking, and while it is being towed to sea.

No ceremonies will be conducted when tugs begin towing the Oriskany out to sea, probably around May 15, because explosives already will be on board. Instead, a special ceremony for former crew members and invited guests will be conducted May 13 at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola NAS.

Private boats will be allowed to witness the sinking but must stay at least a mile away from the Oriskany at all times. The sinking will commence at first light on May 17, and it could take all day for the ship's hull to fill with water.

The 48- to 96-hour wait period is necessary before diving is allowed to make sure no material breaks loose from the 888-foot carrier. Security boats will be on hand to keep divers away until safety is assured, officials said.

The coordinates of the sinking location are: 30 degrees, 2 minutes north latitude, and 87 degrees, 0 minutes west longitude, said Robert Turpin, Escambia County's chief of marine resources.

National Geographic filmmakers are expected to document the entire preparation and scuttling process.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hospital trains for Oriskany diving injuries


Pensacola News Journal
By Sean Smith
February 28, 2006

The soon-to-be-sunk aircraft carrier Oriskany is expected to become a prime divers' playground, but local hospitals and emergency officials are bracing for dive injuries.

Baptist Hospital will be the only local facility with a hyperbaric chamber to treat civilian dive injuries. The chamber at Pensacola Naval Air Station is for military divers.

The Baptist chamber, currently used to treat wounds and other ailments, will be ready for dive injuries by April or May, Dr. Kelli Wells said.

The treatment of dive injuries is a very involved process that requires enhanced training as well as 24-hour staff, she said.

"What we're doing is increasing the level of training," she said. "We'll treat dive injuries as they occur, but my real desire is that we get information out there to prevent the injuries."

Currently, emergency crews divert dive-injury patients to hospitals in Mobile and Panama City, which each see about a dozen dive-related injuries a year.

The 32,000-ton, 888-foot long Oriskany, to be sunk before June 1, is expected to rest at about 210 feet down, 22 miles southwest of Pensacola Pass. The superstructure will be at about 60 feet and the flight deck at about 130 feet -- the limit for recreational divers.

"There are a tremendous amount of unknowns," said Navy Cmdr. Ward Reed, director of the hyperbarics program at the Naval Operational Medicine Institute at Pensacola Naval Air Station. "What we do know is it's going to be pretty far out, and it's going to be deep."

Most dive injuries occur from decompression sickness -- dubbed "the bends" -- which is caused by surfacing too quickly.

"In order to see more of the Oriskany, divers will have to reach significant depths, and that increases the risk," Wells said. "If divers alter their plan and stay longer than they should, they run out of time and then return to the surface too quickly, and they get sick."

For a typical dive to 130 feet, divers have five to eight minutes from the time they leave the surface, said Reed, who has been advising local emergency officials for 18 months.

"You get enough time to get down to the flight deck, touch it and look around," he said. "Then it will be time to leave."

Bay Medical Center in Panama City also is gearing up for a potential increase from the 10 to 12 dive injuries it treats each year, spokeswoman Christa Hild said.

The Warrington dive shop MBT Divers is preparing a multimedia briefing on the Oriskany and plans to take certified advanced scuba divers there, owner Jim Phillips said.

Oriskany dives should not create too many problems because divers will be advanced, Phillips said. Escambia County's artificial reef program includes more than 110 reefs in the area -- most of them at less than 100 feet.

"As long as they put forth a reasonable effort to follow the guidelines, everybody should be fine," Phillips said.

Robert Turpin, chief of Escambia County Marine Resources Division, said safety was in the forefront as Oriskany plans were made.

The ship has been stripped of anything of value, he said. The superstructure, which will be at a shallow depth and likely will be teeming with sea life, may well be the most attractive part, he said.

But Turpin, who has logged more than 2,500 dives, said caution still will be critical when diving the Oriskany.

"It is an advanced dive -- it's not for the newly certified, not for the inexperienced," he said. "Divers are pretty smart, and they are very well trained. When you put a tank on your back and a mask on your face, the only thing between you and disaster is yourself.

"There's nothing inside the Oriskany worth dying for."