Ghost Fleet Put to Rest

S. Pollard/MCT

Conor Volpe

After years of litigation, the United States government has agreed to begin removing ships from Suisun Bay’s infamous mothball fleet. By 2017, all the former warships will have made the 5,000-mile journey to a scrap yard in Texas to be dismantled. Environmental watch dog agencies have been in the courts attempting to remove the 52 decaying ships from the bay, citing regulations under the Clean Water Act, and California’s hazardous waste laws.

These violations include leakage of toxic chemicals from 52 ships into the bay. They also cite the hazardous paint chips and decaying carcasses of rodents that cover the ships as a violation of the state’s hazardous waste laws. A U.S. Maritime Administration commissioned analysis revealed that 20 tons of metal has already fallen off the hulls of these ships and into the water.

During World War II, hundreds of war ships were made that could not be put into use before the war was over, and were subsequently stored in coves all around the nation. Originally Suisun Bay, visible from the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, had held 80 retired war ships, which were stripped of motors and weapons. Because of decay, 28 of these vessels were scrapped over the years. The ships were kept in case the Navy would need them again in the future.

The ships were supposed to be cleaned monthly, but environmentalist groups claim that the ships have not been cleaned in over a year. The U.S. Maritime Administration agreed to remove the 20 worst ships by Sept. 30, 2012, and the last 32 by Sept. 30, 2017. They will be moved to a dock in San Francisco where they will be cleaned before their journey.