Final Preparations Underway For Radford Sinking

OCEAN CITY – Plans to scuttle a retired U.S. Navy destroyer as part of a three-state artificial reef system 30 miles from the Ocean City Inlet are inching closer to becoming a reality this week as final preparations and inspections are being conducted on the vessel that could be sunk before the end of October.

The decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford will be featured in a three-state cooperative artificial reef project that includes Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, along with the U.S. Navy. The 563-foot Radford has been stored all summer in the Navy’s Philadelphia shipyard where it is being prepared for its ultimate home at the bottom of the ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast.

Preliminary plans called for the vessel to be sunk on a permitted artificial reef site named “DelJerseyLand” in honor of the three states participating in the project in late summer, but the sinking has been delayed as the vessel undergoes final preparations and inspections. The ship is in the final stages of the process to strip and clean it in order to make it environmentally viable as a future artificial site.

The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) has partnered with similar agencies in Delaware and New Jersey to first acquire the decommissioned Radford and then prepare it for sinking off the mid-Atlantic coast in an area equidistant from the three states.

Maryland Artificial Reef Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz said this week the exact date of the sinking has been difficult to pin down, although the plan is on track for mid- to late October.

“The date of the sinking would be mid- to late October at the earliest,” he said. “We cannot schedule the date until we meet with the EPA and work out the schedule for the final PCB inspection.”

Zlokovitz said the final date would depend largely on the approval of the EPA. After the vessel is cleared for sinking, the exact date will likely depend on weather and sea conditions and other logistics involved with the massive undertaking.

“If we are not in compliance with EPA procedures and don’t have all the documentation, we may have to delay the sinking in order to come into compliance,” he said. “I am on standby to attend a meeting with EPA to discuss PCB cleaning procedures and final prep work and should know more about a final sinking date after that meeting.”

The already-permitted site is equidistant from each state’s major Atlantic port at about 32 miles east-northeast of the Ocean City Inlet, 28 miles southeast of the Indian River Inlet in Delaware and 34 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J. Following a final inspection and clearance to proceed, likely some time later this month, the Radford will be towed down the Delaware River and out to sea over the permitted reef site. It will remain over the permitted reef site for several days while its hull is strategically sliced open to allow for a methodical sinking by flooding its many compartments.

The 536-foot Radford will become the largest warship ever sunk as part of an artificial reef site on the East Coast. The 910-foot former aircraft carrier Oriskany was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. in 2006, becoming the largest warship ever sunk expressly for the purpose.

The retired Radford would be sunk in about 130 feet of water and would create a vertical profile from the sea floor of about 70 feet, along with its 560-foot-plus length. It was launched in 1975 and commissioned in 1977. Twenty-eight years later it was decommissioned and now sits in a Philadelphia shipyard awaiting its fate. The ship was made available to all Gulf and Atlantic states in May 2008, but the Navy received only the application from the tri-state group including Maryland.