Retired Navy Destroyer Could Find Home Off Coast of Resort

OCEAN CITY- The artificial reef system off the coast of Ocean City could get a major contribution is plans to scuttle a retired U.S. Navy destroyer come to fruition.

The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) is considering a partnership with the states of Delaware and New Jersey to acquire the retired 563-foot U.S. Navy destroyer Radford, which has been stored at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard while awaiting its fate. The vessel is in the process of being stripped and cleaned in order to make it environmentally viable as a future artificial reef site likely somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region and the three states are partnering on a plan to sink it in an area just 26 miles off the coast of Ocean City.

The huge new reef site would be called DelJerseyLand and would be located in an area accessible to each state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries. Should the plan come to fruition, the ex-destroyer would become the largest former warship sunk at part of an artificial reef site on the East Coast. The 910-foot former aircraft carrier Oriskany was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico as part of an artificial reef site there two years ago, becoming the largest warship ever sunk expressly for the purpose.

It now appears finding a funding source is the only stumbling block in the three states’ effort to obtain the Radford for its new reef site, and the project could come in at a fairly low price considering the environmental and economic upside. Salvage companies are bidding on scrap metal and other salvageable elements of the old vessel, and depending on how that goes, the price of the Radford could come in as low as $600,000, representing a commitment of about $200,000 for each state.

Adding the 563-foot retired Navy destroyer could be quite a coup for the growing artificial reef system off the coast of the resort. The Ocean City Artificial Reef Foundation is currently in the process of obtaining over 600 retired New York City subway cars, which, if and when completed, will almost triple the size of the existing artificial reef system. Adding the 563-foot Radford just 26 miles off the coast would match that effort and then some in one fell swoop.

For the last decade, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has been steadily expanding the artificial reef system off the coast of the resort with eight sites ranging from as close to shore as one mile to as far as 20 miles. In that span, the foundation has submerged tons of pieces of material, from old boats to retired military equipment to discarded construction material, enhancing habitat for fish and other sea creatures, which, in turn, has improved offshore fishing for recreational anglers and created new opportunities for diving enthusiasts.

Captain Monty Hawkins of the Ocean City Reef Foundation said this week he is confident the three-state partnership will be successful in obtaining the Radford for the DelJerseyLand site. He said the Navy has become more interested in contributing decommissioned vessels to artificial reef sites in recent years.

“It’s good to see the Navy getting back into it,” he said. “I’m reasonably confident the three states will be able to put this funding package together. It seems like the money is only thing holding this up.”

Delaware is a permit holder for the site, and as such is running the point for the project. Hawkins said Maryland has made great strides with its artificial reef systems both in the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay in recent years, but the other states are further ahead in their efforts.

“Maryland has come leaps and bounds recently, but we’re pretty young when it comes to artificial reef development,” he said. “Delaware and New Jersey are light years ahead of us.”

The DelJerseyLand site would be located not far from an existing artificial reef site made up of a couple of vessels torpedoed during World War II. The “Moonstone” was a private vessel pressed into service during the war and was sunk by a German U-boat in the area. The Swedish vessel “Hvoslef” also went down in the area during WWII. Combined, the two sunken ships have already created a wonderful artificial reef system in the area designated for DelJerseyLand and adding the 563-foot Radford would only enhance that, according to Hawkins.

“It’s a great site already,” he said. “It’s a fairly easy run out of Ocean City. I used to take the old wooden ‘Angler’ up there years ago when I was running that boat.”

The USS Radford was launched in 1977 and commissioned in 1977. Twenty-eight years later, the Radford was decommissioned and now sits in a Philadelphia shipyard awaiting its final fate. Hawkins said adding the Radford to the artificial reef system growing off the coasts of Maryland and Delaware would only enhance habitat, attract more fish and create recreational fishing and diving opportunities. 

“It’s like an irrevocable trust,” he said. “We can spend the interest, but we can never touch the principal. Once that vessel is down there, it will create habitat and attract fish for years to come.”