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Ghost Fleet

      6/25/2002

Ghost Fleet
Ghost Fleet

Fleet of ships that few people even know exists is anchored off the American East Coast state of Virginia (USA). That's because the ships, some more than 150 meters long and as tall as twelve story buildings, are huddled together in the waters near a military base and largely hidden from view unless you are on the water. It is a floating grave yard for retired U.S. merchant ships There's no easy way to get rid of those ships, which are a potential environmental nightmare. Tied together with thick wire cables, the ancient flotilla creaks and groans with old age.

The 100 ships anchored here once carried cargo, missiles, and rescue equipment, helicopters, satellite-tracking devices and troops around the globe. This is the James River Reserve Fleet, commonly known as the Ghost Fleet. The ships, retired navy and merchant vessels, are rusted and corroded and slowly deteriorating.

Congress has mandated that the Maritime Administration, the government agency that has custody of the James River Reserve Fleet, dispose of the Ghost Fleet by 2006, but has not yet appropriated the money to do the job. Discharges of oil from the James River Reserve have the potential to cause hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in environmental damage, depending on the severity of the discharge. This wasn't a problem prior to 1995, because the United States recycled its retired ships abroad. But new health, safety and environmental laws that require the removal of PCBs from the merchant fleet put an end to overseas scrapping. It costs even more, $2.7 million, to dismantle and dispose of a single vessel.

One alternative has been to turn the ships into artificial reefs. Unfortunately not all ships in the Ghost Fleet are candidates for artificial reefs. Even if they were, the cost, although less than scrapping, is still $1 million for each ship.


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