Scott Harper -
The U.S. Maritime Administration has adopted new rules that, for now, effectively end a high-profile program for getting rid of old ships by making them into artificial reefs.
The federal agency once trumpeted its reefing program as an environmentally responsible alternative for disposing of junk behemoths by stripping them down and sinking them offshore, where they often became popular destinations for fishermen and divers.
Several unwanted ships owned by the agency - including two from the James River Reserve Fleet, better known as the "ghost fleet" - were converted into metallic reefs after being prepared and purged of toxic innards at local shipyards.
But the Maritime Administration recently changed two standards that, taken together, removed all remaining junk ships as possible reef candidates.
Curt Michanczyk, director of ship disposal for the agency, a branch of the Department of Transportation, said Wednesday that the program still exists, just that none of the 40 anchored vessels at reserve fleets in Virginia, California and Texas qualify.
Only 12 obsolete ships are left at the James River fleet, off Fort Eustis in Newport News, where there used to be more than 100 less than a decade ago.
Most have been towed away to salvage yards and recycled for scrap metal and steel. Chief among the changes is a rule that all ships built before 1985 no longer can be sunk as reefs.
The rule is targeted at curtailing PCBs, a highly toxic class of chemicals that, before 1985, often were found in ship wiring, insulation, gaskets and paint.