March 27, 2006
Old sub tender next to be scrapped
The Howard W. Gilmore, lying moored on the James River in Newport News, Va., on March 22, will be the next ship in the Navy’s “ghost fleet” to be removed and scrapped. — Adrin Snider Newport News (Va.) Daily Press / AP Photo
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The 50th ship to leave the James River “Ghost Fleet” will likely depart this week, leaving 47 rusting hulks.
The departure of the decommissioned World War II-era submarine tender Howard W. Gilmore will leave just three ships labeled as high priorities for disposal because of their decrepit condition. Most of them contain waste fuels, heavy oils, asbestos, lead, toxic PCBs and other contaminants that, if spilled, could devastate the historic James.
Congress approved spending $21 million on the disposal program this year, and President Bush has asked for $26 million next year.
“This is a huge success story,” Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Gloucester, said during a news conference last week at Fort Eustis. “The real dangerous ones are gone.”
John Jamian, acting maritime administrator, could not provide a schedule for the disposal of the remaining obsolete ships.
Newport News Mayor Joe Frank, who complimented Davis for speeding the departure of the worst ships, said he wants more done quicker.
“We need to maintain a sense of urgency,” Frank said. “This kind of thing is a risk we ought not have to accept.”
One of the vessels soon to leave the fleet, an experimental Navy barge known as the UEB, is being sold for $76,000 to North American Ship Recycling in Baltimore. The deal marks the first time in years that the government will be paid for a junk ship, instead of paying others to accept and scrap its toxic dinosaurs.
The Gilmore will be disposed of the old way. Bay Bridge Enterprises, a salvage yard in Chesapeake, won a recycling contract from the government worth $742,265.
Under a congressional mandate, the Maritime Administration was supposed to have safely disposed of all unwanted, obsolete ships by September. Jamian and others said they cannot meet this deadline, given past funding constraints, but expected more ships to leave in the months ahead.
Davis stressed that not all ships will vacate the fleet, which has been a fixture in local waters since World War I and a favorite spot for history buffs. She said newer vessels that have been drained of any remnant bunker fuels will continue to anchor off Fort Eustis, as well as crafts that the Navy or Army believe might be useful in future missions.
Reserve fleets also can be found near Beaumont, Texas, and in Suisan Bay, Calif. In all, the Maritime Administration cares for about 120 junk vessels, but the James River has hosted the oldest and most environmentally risky among the three storage sites, officials said.
Nickname: Happy Howie
Class: AS 11
Status: Disposed of by Navy title transfer to the Maritime Administration
Date status changed: 05/01/1999
Berth: James River Reserve Fleet, Fort Eustis, VA
Maintenance Category: NONE
Builder: NAV SY/MARE ISLAND
Launch Date: 09/16/1943
Commission Date: 05/24/1944
Decommission Date: 09/30/1980
Age (since launch)(At time of disposal) 55.7 years
Stricken Date: 12/01/1980