"Ghost Fleet" of WWII-Era Ships Will Finally Fade Away–Along With Its Pollution

By Andrew Moseman | April 1, 2010 10:48 am

Suisun BayThe ghost fleet, mothball fleet, reserve fleet—whatever you want to call the long-obsolete U.S. Navy ships that have been rusting in California’s Suisun Bay for decades, they might finally be gone this decade. The federal government’s Maritime Administration says it will spend $38 million to remove about half of the crumbling convoy from the waters near San Francisco by 2012, and dispose of the rest by 2017.

After World War II, there were thousands of surplus ships, and, in 1946, the Maritime Administration began keeping the best of them in reserve. At one time, more than 350 ships were in the fleet, including cruisers, destroyers, supply ships, transports and tankers [San Fransisco Chronicle]. The Navy dusted off some of them for use in the Korean and Vietnam wars. But the rest became relics, slowing decaying over the next six decades. And while the ghost fleet provides some nostalgia for Navy vets, it provides something less romantic for Suisun Bay: pollution. Twenty tons of lead-based paint had leached into the water.

GhostFleetBecause of those concerns, environmental groups including the National Resources Defense Council sued the Maritime Administration, leading to this disposal plan. The 25 most decrepit ships will be removed by 2012, and stripped of loose paint, barnacles and plants before they are towed to Texas to be cut apart and recycled [The New York Times]. A federal judge still must approve this settlement, but if one does, then the Maritime Administration will remove the other 27 old vessels by 2017.

Not all the ships are headed for disposal, though. One resident of the bay is the battleship Iowa, which carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Cairo and Tehran conferences in 1943. The ship was recommissioned in 1984 but was laid up again in 1990 after an explosion in a turret that killed 47 sailors. The Iowa will be retained at Suisun Bay pending disposition as a museum ship [San Fransisco Chronicle].

Related Content:
80beats: Disaster Psychology: Protect the Women—If There’s Time
80beats: Next Global Warming Victim: Centuries-Old Shipwrecks
DISCOVER: The Titanic’s Revenge
Discoblog: The Navy’s Old Ships Get a Second Life… As Fish Residences

Image: flickr / Ingridtalylar; NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Lucas

    “Twenty tons of lead-based paint had leached into the water.” Wow! People are so stupid. Honestly, I can’t wait for a mass destruction from a meteor, hell, even aliens! Anything that will destroy ALL humans. And hopefully soon. We have no right to be here with all of the other intelligent lifeforms on Earth, and yes, even a paramecium is better than us.

  • Eugene Luchansky

    Is there some way to discover the names of the vessels in the Ghost Fleet?

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    @Eugene if you click on the link in the post to the San Francisco Chronicle, their article names some more of the ships. Here’s a pdf of the whole reserve fleet, including what’s in Suisun Bay: http://www.marad.dot.gov/documents/NDRF_Inventory.pdf

  • Bram Floria

    I’m sorry Lucas thinks so little of ALL humanity. I might take exception if he didn’t amuse me.

  • DennisB

    Lucas thinks we should all die due to stupidity.
    The funny part is this is a incompetent federal agency at work.
    Lucas probably is the type who thinks The Federal Government should be running everything.
    This is known as irony.

  • Flint

    20 tons. Is that the worst they could find regarding toxic impact? What a crock.

    I’m not an expert in Suisun bay – does a river flow through it? Just tides?

    Divide by 60 years.Divide by days. Divide by two tides per day. Divide by the mass of water change in the in the bay.

    Parts per quadrillion anyone?

    They DO think we’re stupid.

    Scrap them because they’re an eyesore. Scrap them because their engines are obsolete and inefficient and more polluting than modern ships. Scrap them for dozens of good reasons. Just don’t make up reasons.

  • sugarlandtigah

    Fill them full of Democrat Congressmen before you scrap them and remove the most dangerous pollution that exists. Lead paint has never taken away anyone’s freedom and called it a blessing.

    A good old fashioned keel hauling would do wonders for Obama and his chicago punks. what a grand idea for honoring all of the sailors who served abord the ghost fleet!

  • robert usnr

    how does someone get a piece of one of these vessles? USS Cape Cod for instance. I had some shipmates on her in the first gulf war and grew up on Cape Cod.

  • abalonestar

    Does somebody pay all these repugnican hacks to comment on every website out there? C’mon. We put up with George (Marie Antoinette) Bush for eight years. Get over yourselves. You can’t have everything your way all the time. Grow up.

  • M Burke

    Lucas – do us a favor and start with yourself.

  • http://revkellydire.terapad.com/index.cfm?fa=contentNews.newsDetails&newsID=1828011&from=list Model Ship

    I recently came across your post via Aol, but I am going to definitely be digging through the older pages to check out the other jewels you may have hidden in there. Keep up the good work!

  • jeff Nadr

    Congratulations to San Fransisco for removing the last traces of a once proud military community which was prevelant thoughout the bay.

    If the ships are truly leaching pollutants into the bay then that should be corrected, but this sounds more like liberal tree huggers removing the last traces of the “military industrial complex” from the the bay area.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar