North Bay News

Mothball fleet makes first voyage to scrap yard

Thursday, March 18, 2010

There were signs of life aboard a World War II relic. The federal government is making good on its promise to clean up the aging mothball fleet in Suisun Bay. In the process, they may be keeping pollutants out of the bay.

The Winthrop Victory ship is the last of its kind stored in the Sacramento Delta. The World War II era ship was one of many built on the West Coast to aid in the war effort. On Thursday, it made the first leg of its final journey to the scrap yard.

"It's significant because after three years, finally the U.S. Maritime Administration recognizes that they can't clean ships just in the open water," says Bruce Wolfe with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. "We want them to do it in a place that controlled because the things that come off the hull, we don't want in the bay."

The board joined environmental groups in suing the Maritime Administration in 2008, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws by stripping paint from the aging ships in Suisun Bay.

The Maritime Administration was unavailable for an interview, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report last year that said, despite the rusting hulls and peeling paint, there were no more heavy metals in the bay surrounding the fleet than you would find in any other Bay Area waterway.

"Our conclusion out of this report is that the values near the fleet, those values based on sediment quality guidelines would be considered a low threat to wildlife," said Rob Ricker from NOAA in March 2009.

Still, the Maritime Administration agreed to move the Winthrop Victory to a San Francisco drydock before sailing to Brownsville, Texas in May to be dismantled.

Environmentalist say there are of 70 ships in the mothball fleet -- 55 are slated for disposal. They say they are close to reaching a settlement on how those ships will be dismantled.

"We're probably looking at five or six more years with ships out in Suisun Bay," says Wolfe.

There is no ship dismantler on the West Coast, so environmentalist are hoping an agreement can be worked out to reopen the Mare Island drydocks to scrap the remaining ships.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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