Storm Broke Radford in Two Pieces

OCEAN CITY- Recent dives on the former U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford, a retired U.S. Navy destroyer sunk in August to the bottom of the ocean as part of a three-state artificial reef system just 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City, has already broken into two large pieces, likely caused by the affects of Hurricane Irene.

The 536-foot Spruance class Radford, decommissioned by the Navy and retired to dry dock for several years, was sunk to the bottom on August 10, becoming the centerpiece of a vast three-state artificial reef system about 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City in a partnership that includes Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the U.S. Navy. The vessel was sunk on a permitted reef site appropriately named “Del-Jersey-Land” in honor of the three states participating in the project.

The Radford was systematically sunk over the site in about 130 feet of water so the vessel lowered the bottom on its keel, creating a vertical profile of about 70 feet from the bottom to go along with its 560-foot-plus length. The intent is to expand on a growing artificial reef system of the coast about equidistant from the three states in order to enhance fishing, diving and recreational opportunities.

Less than two months after the Radford was ceremoniously sunk to the bottom, recent dives on the vessel confirmed it has already broken in two large pieces, likely caused by cracks and tears during it settling and accelerated by the effects of Hurricane Irene, which blew through the area at the end of August. On August 19, less than days after the Radford was sunk divers on the “OC Diver” took a trip to the vessel and reported some tears and cracks in the structure.

“We found that the deck at the base of the front of the wheelhouse deck structure was starting to form a crease or a valley across the entire deck,” said “OC Diver” captain and dive instructor Ted Green this week. “Corresponding with the crease, there was a crease and minor tearing on each side of the hull from the deck to the keel.”

Last Thursday, the “OC Diver” returned to the Radford for the first time since Hurricane Irene and discovered the initial cracks had expanded and the vessel is now in two large pieces, likely the result of the storm surge and wave action caused by the storm.

“We dove the Radford for the first time since Hurricane Irene,” said Green. “The ship is now in two parts approximately 200 feet apart. The large main section from the bridge to the stern is still upright and actually moved about 200 feet from where it was.”

Green said it was remarkable the large section from the bridge to the stern did not topple over during the storm and still stood upright on the bottom just as it was sunk. What is also remarkable is the section moved about 200 feet to the southeast, which was toward the storm surge waves.

However, a large section of the vessel from the bridge to the bow with a length of about 100 feet remains where it was purposely sunk, but appears to have toppled over on the bottom, according to Green.

“Finally, the bridge end of this section has scoured into the bottom about five feet,” he said. “This bodes well for it staying upright. The bow section is another story. This section is in the same location as it was before Irene. While we didn’t dive this section, it appears it has fallen over as it didn’t profile as high on the depth sounder.”

Green said if the Radford had settled with its bow scouring into the bottom as planned, or if the retired destroyer had more time to settle before the arrival of Irene, the vessel might still be intact.

“Sadly, if the bulbous bow had been jetted into the bottom, most of the keel would have been supported and the ship would possibly or likely still be in one piece,” he said. “So Irene, a category 1 hurricane, helped break the Radford into two pieces.”

Meanwhile, local reef officials said the Radford breaking into two large pieces does not diminish its value as an artificial reef site and could actually enhance it.

“The Radford was purposely sited as reef and it was cut and carved in many places to enhance water flow, which expands the amount of productive reef surface,” said Monty Hawkins, an Ocean City Reef Foundation member and captain of the “Morning Star.” “Breaking in two simply increases the surface area further still.”

Hawkins, whose “Morning Star” works the artificial reef system in and around the resort area, said the break-up of the Radford will likely improve its value over time from a fishing standpoint. He related the break-up of another vessel turned artificial reef to illustrate his point.

“I’d say it absolutely increases its effectiveness as reef,” he said. “The bow section of the ‘African Queen’ is just that. The rest of the ship was towed all over creation, but the bow was stuck and left in place. It became a tautog factory.”

While the Radford’s apparent breaking in two will likely enhance its recreational fishing value, it won’t likely improve conditions for recreational divers.

“It’s a sour turn of events for the diving community, but the fish and corals won’t mind a bit,” said Hawkins.