Retired Destroyer About To Become Artificial Reef

OCEAN CITY — It now appears a target window, if not a firm date, has been established for the sinking of a retired U.S. Navy destroyer as part of a three-state artificial reef system just 30 miles from the Ocean City Inlet.

The target date for the sinking of the decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford has been tentatively set for the week of July 11 although the vessel is still waiting on final approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 536-foot Radford will eventually become the centerpiece of a vast three-state artificial reef project about 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City that includes Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, along with the U.S. Navy.

The retired ship has spent the last year or so in a Navy shipyard in Philadelphia, where it is being prepared for its ultimate home at the bottom of the ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast. The plan calls for the vessel to be sunk on a permitted artificial reef site named “Del-Jersey-Land” in honor of the three states participating in the project.

Reports surfaced recently the Radford would be sunk some time during the week of July 11, with a target date of July 12 and a back-up date of July 13. However, officials close to the operation said this week while the target week of July 11 is accurate, the exact sinking date is still in question and could be pushed back further for a variety of reasons including final EPA approval and, perhaps more importantly, the weather, according to Tim Mullane, managing director of American Marine Group, the private sector salvaging company coordinating the sinking.

“While it is possible that the ship could be sunk on July 12, it is a very remote possibility,” he said. “The target week is the week of July 11, and there will be further updates, but the reality is the ship will be sunk on a weekday, with good weather, and there will be about 72 hours notice of when it will be.”

Mullane said there was still much work to do and final approvals to be gained before the Radford is scuttled off the mid-Atlantic coast.

“There are still inspections to be done, but a sink date was necessary as a target to get the regulatory bodies moving in the right direction,” he said. “The date is uncertain, but the target is the week of July 11, likely later in the week, but completely dependent on the weather. We want the seas to be so calm that you can come out there in a bathtub with oars so that everyone can enjoy the day.”

Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) officials, who are handling much of the project on behalf of the three participating states, said this week there is no firm date and it could be pushed back to later in July or even early August.

“There is no firm date, but we’re going to sink that boat. It’s going to go down,” said DNREC spokesperson Joanna Wilson. “The hot potato question right now is exactly when.”

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 the final permitting stage would likely be undertaken as soon as this week although a firm sink date had not been confirmed.

“We had been targeting the week of July 5 for inspections by USCG and EPA, but this date has not been confirmed yet,” he said. “If we have any problems with scheduling the inspections and actually passing the inspections, then the sink date would certainly be pushed back again.”

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. 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.

When the vessel is ultimately sunk off the mid-Atlantic coast, it is expected to benefit marine life by creating or mimicking habitat while enhancing the coastal economies of the three states involved in the project, including Maryland, through recreational fishing and diving opportunities.