Increased efforts to remove 'Mothball Fleet'

February 7, 2008 8:12:27 PM PST
Suisun Bay is home to what's known as the Mothball Fleet -- dozens of decommissioned warships in a state of disrepair-- just floating there, polluting North Bay waters. State and federal officials have been deadlocked on how to remove the fleet. on Thursday, state lawmakers met in Benicia to find a solution.

For years the paint from the old and rusty ships anchored in Suisun Bay has fallen into the Bay Area waters. Fred Euphrat is with the Legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture and he knows what's in that paint.

"It has lead, arsenic, zinc, perhaps tin."

For years, the state and the federal government have battled to remove the so-called Mothball Fleet. Now, a state legislative committee is turning up the heat.

"We must recognize we are stuck in a bureaucratic mess, and because of storms, tides and daily flows pose an increase threat to the entire San Francisco Bay and Delta," says Sen. Patricia Wiggins, Eureka.

Before they can take them away, the hulls must be cleaned of all organisms according to a 1996 federal law.

"The ships need to be cleared of life so that invasive species from the San Francisco Bay don't go into the Caribbean and up into Texas," says Euphrat.

Brownsville, Texas is the only place capable of recycling these ships. To get there, a ship must go through the Panama Canal and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmentalists fear cleaning the hulls will add even more toxic substances to our waters. One suggestion is to get them into dry dock.

The maritime administration is the federal agency in charge of dismantling these ships. They've said because they are so fragile, they may not be able to get them back into the water.

"Our response is if they are not going to be strong enough to come out of dry dock, are they strong enough to be towed from here to Texas," says Bruce Wolfe, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board.

The Maritime Administration, based in Washington D.C., refused to attend Thursday's hearing. No action was expected to be taken today, but this committee may recommend that the full legislature get involved to once and for all get rid of these old vessels.