Plans to make the USS Kawishiwi the next artificial reef in California ended last week when the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) withdrew the ship from the list of vessels considered suitable for reefing.
In an interview with DiverWire.com, officials from the non-profit California Ships to Reefs (CSTR) talked about the disappointment due to a change in the planning process. CSTR members had been working vigorously to obtain the ship for reefing on a site southwest of Dana Point Harbor.
The Kawishiwi is a retired fleet oiler currently docked in Suisun Bay with other decommissioned naval vessels. CSTR’s plan to reef the ship had the cooperation of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and MARAD previously said the Kawishiwi was suitable and available for artificial reefing.
But in a reversal of that decision, MARAD told CDFG in a May 31 letter that it had revised its policies and the Kawishiwi is now committed to the ship recycling program. The agency is now excluding all vessels likely to contain Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and/or those vessels that are within the 24-month planning window for disposal through dismantling/recycling.
CSTR quickly determined that the one ship in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet that meets the new critera is the USS Willamette, a more recent vintage fleet oiler that does not have PCB’s. CSTR has already begun the process to have the Willamette approved for reefing at the same Dana Point site.
“It’s disappointing that we won’t be able to use the Kawishiwi,” said Ron Springer, CSTR’s project team leader for the Dana Point reefing site. “But on the other hand, the Willamette will require less work to prepare for sinking. It’s also a little longer, which is exciting to me. I hope ARAD and the CDFG can work with us to get this project done.”
Joel Geldin, CSTR’s Chairman and CEO, noted that the new MARAD criteria will allay concerns about any potential environmental contamination. “We have always made ocean safety the top priority in our reefing plans and we’re willing to move forward with MARAD, working with whatever standards they require.”
“It’s unfortunate the Kawishiwi was removed from consideration after MARAD’s previous approval and after so many of our volunteers and the Kawishiwi’s own veteran crew members invested their time, energy and support in this project,” Geldin said.
“It was our hope to give the Kawishiwi new life as an under seas monument to her crew. But we will move ahead with our plans for the Willamette. CSTR’s mission to create new ocean life along the California coastline continues,” Geldin affirmed. “We will pursue other opportunities for reefing whether they are ship-based, or using other materials, such as our rigs to reefs program,” he said.
California Ships to Reefs is a non-profit group seeking to sink surplus ships as artificial reefs, bringing diving and fishing tourism to local ports in California and enhancing the ocean environment.
For more information visit www.californiashipstoreefs.org.