NORFOLK (NNS) -- A former naval ship which began its career 64 years ago is scheduled to perform a final mission, which might last more than 75 years.
The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg has changed its name, served three different military services, been featured in a major motion picture and will perform its final mission as an artificial reef when it is sunk off the coast of Key West, Fla.
The 533-foot ship formerly known as the troop transport USS General Harry S. Taylor (AP 145) will serve an environmental mission to help relieve recreational pressure from the natural reef in the Florida Keys as part of the Vandenberg Artificial Reef Project.
"We have the only natural reef in the country in the Florida Keys and a lot of people come to see it," said Joe Weatherby, project organizer. "This kind of activity has been shown to be effective in relieving pressure on the natural reef. Further, we expect something in the order of 200 species of fish to inhabit this ship over time."
Vandenberg is being cleaned for the protection of marine life before its scheduled sinking in May 2008.
"The number one problem that we encounter with ex-military vessels is the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)," said Kevin Weatherby, safety officer for the project. "PCBs were a great thing in their time but have been proven to be horrible and dirty for the environment. Our main mission here is to clean the ship and remove all PCBs and hydrocarbons."
Kevin added the PCB cleanup has moved along well and is nearly complete. Once the PCBs are removed, Vandenberg's paint will be removed and the ship will undergo some general cleaning before heading to Florida.
Though Vandenberg was overhauled into an Air Force missile-tracking vessel, it isn't the first ship with a naval origin to become an artificial reef and help the ecosystem.
The Navy provided the largest vessel intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef when the 888-foot aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34) was sunk 21 miles off the coast of Pensacola, Fla.
Joe added the Navy has shown some interest in using more decommissioned ships to help the environment as artificial reefs.
"As opposed to scrapping, this is the way to recycle the Navy's ships," he said. "This is where a ship can serve a duty for another 75 or 100 years and have many positive effects on both the environment and the economy."
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