Reefing a Navy destroyer

Tim Mullane knows a few things about sinking boats. His company, American Marine Group, has scuttled about 60 vessels on purpose, plus some 3,000 tons of culvert and pipe.

Mullane’s company creates artificial reef habitats. This week, if the weather cooperates, he will sink the ex-Navy destroyer USS Radford off the coast of Delaware. At 563′ it will be the longest ship ever reefed in the area called “Deljerseyland Reef,” a point equidistant from Cape May, N.J., Indian River Inlet, Del., and Ocean City, Md. The addition of the big ship to the reef is creating excitement in the fishing and scuba communities, and Delaware has reportedly chartered the Cape May Ferry to take 600 invited guests out to watch the destroyer go down.

AMG’s two tugs, the America and the American, will tow the Radford from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where they have been removing material that can be reused and cleaning the ship of environmental hazards. They will proceed down the Delaware to the ocean and anchor her at the sinking site. The crews will spend a day cutting holes below the waterline and preparing to open the seacocks. Mullane’s team will not use explosives because of the potential for harming fish in the area. When the ferry comes into view, the sinking will begin and if all goes well, the Radford will settle on the bottom in about 120′ of water, creating a nice dive destination.

Mullane feels strongly about the value of reefing old vessels. He sinks a lot of tugs and says that it is a more appropriate end for a workboat than cutting them up for scrap. He remembers one of his early jobs, scuttling the former Curtis Bay Towing tug Swan Point off the Virginia coast.

“Jim Kelly was captaining the tug Cheyenne as we towed her out. I saw that he was becoming emotional, and he told me that his father had worked on the Swan Point for years and when he was a child, his father took him out once. He said, ‘That was the first time I ever went on a tug,’ and he said it was an honor be captaining the voyage to her final resting place.”


About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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