Ship Breaking

Virginia Ghost Fleet Tapped By Texas

August 2004 -- The U.S. Maritime Administration has issued a $3.2 million contract to scrap three obsolete, deteriorating ships that are part of a Ghost Fleet currently on the James River. The Santa Isabel, the Mormacwave and the American Ranger — three cargo ships built in the 1960s — soon will be towed to ESCO Marine of Brownsville, Texas and scrapped. Another Brownsville shipyard, Marine Metals, had been awarded a $3.1 million contract to dismantle three other high-priority cargo ships from the Ghost Fleet: the Santa Cruz, the American Banker and the Mormacmoon.

All six of the vessels had been slated to head overseas as part of a contract with British shipyard Able UK to scrap 13 ships, but the deal has been delayed by legal and permitting problems. Other ships eventually will be substituted to fulfill the British contract.  Four ships were towed to England last fall, stirring protests by residents and environmentalists. They have not been scrapped yet, pending regulatory approval. A federal judge in Washington blocked nine other ships from leaving for England pending an October 1, 2004 hearing in a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against the Maritime Administration. The groups contend that shipping vessels with toxic waste overseas violates federal law.

The Maritime Administration is under a congressional mandate to get rid of about 150 obsolete ships moored in Virginia, Texas, California and Alabama by September 2006.  According to the Maritime Administration, there are about 60 Ghost Fleet vessels anchored off Fort Eustis that need to be scrapped, .  

The ships contain oil, asbestos, lead and other toxic chemicals and have been an environmental concern in Virginia for years.  Since the beginning of 2001, contracts have been awarded for 37 ships from the Ghost Fleet, and 24 of the ships have left. Senator Warner believes Congress favors removing the ships and he thinks that environmentalists should realize that professionals in a shipyard can handle the environmental hazards incorporated in these old ships.  A report prepared for the Maritime Administration in 2001 offered a worst-case scenario in which two ships from the Ghost Fleet break apart in a storm, spilling oil and polluting a 50-mile stretch of shoreline that includes historic Jamestown Island and various nature sanctuaries.