OCEAN CITY — The planned sinking date for a retired U.S. Navy destroyer, as part of a three-state artificial reef system just 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City, passed quietly this week after another delay.
The sinking date for the decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford was set for Aug. 2, but another delay kept the retired destroyer at the dock for another week. The new target date is set for this Tuesday, Aug. 9, although the window is fraught with potential conflicts, not the least of which is the White Marlin Open, the world’s largest billfish tournament set to get underway on Monday, along with Tropical Storm Emily, which was churning in the Atlantic near the Bahamas late yesterday.
The Radford’s sinking has been delayed several times over the last few months for a variety of reasons including final approval by the federal EPA on its remediation. Last-minute logistical problems this week pushed the reefing back another week, according to Tim Mullane, managing director of American Marine Group, the private sector salvage company coordinating the effort.
“I was ready to tow and sink the ship on Tuesday,” he said. “We were supposed to tow out Sunday. The Coast Guard was ready, pilots were ready, assist tugs were ready, my tugs were ready and my crew was ready.”
The new target date, Tuesday, Aug. 9, falls on the second day of the White Marlin Open, with its likely 300-plus boats from all over the mid-Atlantic region converging on the area. While most of the boats competing in the tournament will be far from the reefing area, a considerable percentage come from New Jersey and New York and will likely have to skirt the target area for the sinking. However, it’s a vast ocean and the potential for conflicts is unknown, according to Maryland Artificial Reef Program coordinator Erik Zlokovitz.
“We are aware that this falls during the White Marlin Open,” he said this week. “I am getting mixed opinions on how much of a problem the Open may be for the Radford operation.”
With the majority of the vessel’s competing in the tournament fishing in the Baltimore, Washington, Poor Man’s and Norfolk canyons well to the south and east, the potential for conflicts with boats actually fishing appears minimal. However, some of the competing boats will have to traverse the reef site to get to the fishing canyons.
“My main concern would be the boats in high-speed transit during early morning hours out to the marlin grounds and canyons,” said Zlokovitz. “I think the Ocean City boats will be running due east or southeast from the Ocean City Inlet, so I am not concerned about them. I would be more concerned about boats running down from Cape May and Indian River because they would have a greater chance of running across the reef site while the ship is anchored on station.”
For his part, White Marlin Open founder and director Jim Motsko said this week the new target date for the Radford reefing is not causing much trepidation.
“I don’t think it’s a concern,” he said. “I suppose there’s a potential for conflict with some of the boats coming down from up north, but when the boats are actually fishing, they’ll be much farther out than the reef site, and they’ll be further south and southeast.”
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Emily continues to be a concern for both the Radford project and the White Marlin Open. As of mid-day yesterday, the storm was plodding slowly through the Caribbean with 50 mph winds and was moving toward the Bahamas and the U.S. mainland. Because the storm isn’t very organized, predicting its track and a potential impact on the U.S. mainland has been difficult, but most models have the storm skirting the south Atlantic coast on a northwest track before veering off to the northeast by Sunday or early Monday.
Motsko said tournament officials are keeping a close eye on the storm, as is Mullane and the Radford reefing crew.
“The weather is now my main concern,” Mullane said.