Retired Warship Sinking Off OC Coast Postponed

OCEAN CITY – Plans to scuttle a retired U.S. Navy destroyer as part of a three-state artificial reef system just 30 miles from the Ocean City Inlet, initially scheduled for later this month, have likely been moved back until April as final preparations on the vessel continue and the window for suitable weather starts to close.

The decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford remained in a Navy shipyard in Philadelphia this week as a planned sinking date for the massive vessel appears to have been moved back to April. The 536-foot Radford will eventually become the centerpiece of a vast three-state artificial reef project just about 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City that includes Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, along with the U.S. Navy.

The Radford has been in a Navy shipyard for the last several months 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, as soon as mid-December, but the sinking has been delayed as the vessel undergoes final preparations and inspections.

The ship is in the final stages of the lengthy process to strip and clean it in order to make it environmentally viable as an artificial reef, but the window for weather suitable for the sinking is closing rapidly and the project now faces further delays.

“There’s a very strong likelihood the sinking will be moved back to next April,” said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) spokesman Michael Globetti this week. “If they find a suitable weather window, it’s possible it could take place earlier, but that appears to be a long shot now.”

Globetti said the contractors handling the remediation work on the retired destroyer are continuing their preparations, which have contributed to the delays. In addition, the continued work on the vessel could add to the estimated $800,000 price tag for the project, which is being shared by the three states and the Navy.

“The contractors continue to get recyclable and reusable parts from the ship,” he said. “That could lead to further economic considerations. If they continue to get parts from the Radford, the vessel might have to be dry-docked. If that happens, it could cost as much as $25,000 per day.”

The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) has partnered with similar agencies in Delaware and New Jersey to first acquire the vessel and 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 he has a walk-through scheduled for next week with his colleagues from Delaware, New Jersey and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the ship in Philadelphia after which the new timetable might become clearer.

“I’ll have a better feel for the project after I get on the ship with all of the state and federal agencies and meet with them face to face,” he said. “The contractor is still working hard on the final preparations.”

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, 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.