Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Gathering of Victories at Richmond Port
August 10, 2006

This may be the last time you see three Victory Ships at the Port of Richmond (see attached photo). Not only do we have our own Red Oak Victory, built in Richmond and now undergoing restoration as part of the Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park, but we also have the Sioux Falls Victory and the Hannibal Victory, moored around the corner from the Red Oak at Point Potrero Terminal. Like the Red Oak Victory, the Hannnibal Victory was built in Richmond Kaiser Shipyard 2 some 60 years ago. As described in the story in yesterday’s West County Times, the latter two ships are stopping by to drop their lead based paint and other toxics in the Richmond Inner Harbor before moving on to Texas where they will be scrapped.

It would be nice to scrap them in Richmond and provide jobs for local folks, but alas, the Texas labor costs are cheaper, so that is where our government will send them for a dismantling cost of $805,000 each. With some 75 ships left to go, that could mean some $60 million for Richmond’s economy. We could put the doors back on one or two of the old drydocks at Shipyard 3 and do the work right here.

What does Richmond get out of this the Texas scrapping? Our Port Department will make about $15,000 to $20,000 in layberthing fees for these two ships and a load of toxics at the bottom of our harbor which may cost many times that to clean up next time we do maintenance dredging of the ship channel.

There may be additional information coming out about the possible illegality of the hull cleaning operation now going on in Richmond. Keep an eye on the West County Times the next couple of days.

Posted on Wed, Aug. 09, 2006 


Danger lies in cleaning ships

By Thomas Peele


The Coast Guard has ordered the U.S. Maritime Administration to clean the hulls of aging ships leaving the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, even while acknowledging that the work could pollute local waters or damage the decrepit vessels before they are towed out to sea.

The ships, mostly World War II- and Cold War-era relics, contain hazardous materials such as polychlorinated biphenyls, asbestos and fuel oil. Most haven't been maintained for decades. The cleaning, to prepare the ships for transport to Texas for scrapping, "is now mandatory," Coast Guard spokeswoman Angela McArdle said.

A World War II cargo ship, the Hannibal Victory, its hull flaking paint and its decks laden with rust, was towed Tuesday from Suisun Bay to a Richmond shipyard where workers will begin today to clean below its waterline with nonmetallic brushes. Another ship, the Sioux Falls Victory, was towed to the same location last week.

Marine growth that otherwise could be spread to waters where it isn't native will be removed from both vessels, work that, while environmentally important, could harm the ships, McArdle said. It could "get paint in the water or oil in the water or put a hole in the hull. We are aware that these are concerns," she said. "It is not an easy fix. It could create new problems."

The process is considered new and the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration will monitor the results closely and consider adjustments to the requirement, she said.

Material removed from ships will be left in the water, Maritime Administration spokeswoman Shannon Russell wrote in an e-mail. As the Hannibal Victory was towed into Richmond on Tuesday afternoon, a bright orange boom floated in the water around the Sioux Falls Victory.

It is inevitable that the process will result in lead paint from the ships' hull, and possibly other toxic substances, ending up in the Bay, said Raymond Lovett, technical director of Ship Recycling Institute in Philadelphia.

Any work on the hulls, which haven't been cleaned of marine growth like barnacles, will likely weaken them, Lovett said.

"It could increase problems. A weak hull could be breached by removing things that are attached to it," he said. The barnacles, having been there for so long, might actually aid the structural integrity of the hull.

Active ships are put in dry dock about every five years for hull inspections, painting and cleaning, Lovett said. But the Suisun ships haven't been in dry dock for decades and could be heavily overgrown with barnacles, grasses and other organisms.

Citing concerns over the spread of marine organisms, the Coast Guard issued an order June 27 to clean all ships prior to their leaving the Maritime Administration's reserve fleets in California, Texas and Virginia. It complies with federal laws designed to stem the spread of species to waters where they are not native, McArdle said.

The directive comes at a time when the administration is increasing its ship disposal efforts, in part because of the high world demand for recycled steel. Still, it pays scrapping companies to remove the ships rather than selling them. The administration will miss a congressional deadline of next month, set six years ago, to remove all the vessels.

Seventy-five vessels remain in Suisun Bay, most scheduled for scrapping. The ships "have been laid up for considerable time with little or no hull maintenance," the Coast Guard's order for the work states. Moving them without cleaning could spread species to Pacific, Caribbean or Gulf Coast waters, where crews towing the ships might be forced to seek emergency shelter in bad weather.

Last month, a third ship, the Barnard Victory, was cleaned at a maritime administration dock in Alameda near the USS Hornet Museum. It is now under tow to Texas. The Hannibal Victory and Sioux Falls Victory are scheduled to depart Richmond on Sunday for their roughly 45-day trip through the Panama Canal to Brownsville, Texas.

Cleaning the three ships costs roughly $405,000, Russell said. That's in addition to the roughly $805,000 each the administration is paying Brownsville scrapping companies to dismantle the ships.

Russell said that precautions are taken to protect the environment at each cleaning site. The Coast Guard's order states that all environmental regulations and permits must be complied with. She could not say what permits, if any, were obtained for the work.

The exact condition of ships anchored in Suisun Bay remains secret. The Maritime Administration has for 17 months not complied with a Freedom of Information Act request the Times filed for detailed documentation on each ship.

When the Times on Tuesday asked for information on subcontractors performing the Richmond work, Russell said in an e-mail that none was immediately available and said the newspaper's options included filing another Freedom of Information Act request for the information.

Column Name: Times Watchdog: An Eye on the Environment

Author: dab

SUISUN BAY FLEET HARDLY SHIPSH ... 05/14/2006 Contra Costa Times

Section:  News

Published: 05/14/2006

Page: a01

Keywords: Shipping

Caption: PHOTO 1: A ROW OF SHIPS anchored in Suisun Bay are among the obsolete vessels deemed "an immediate environmental threat." PHOTO 2:

U.S. MARITIME ADMINISTRATION officials cross the deck Friday of the Sioux Falls Victory, one of four obsolete, rusting Victory Ships that are being prepared for a Texas scrap yard. They will be towed from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet near Benicia. PHOTO 3: VICTORY SHIPS peel and rust as officials prepare to tow them to the scrap yard. Of the 77 ships in the fleet, the Victory Ships are the most worrisome. "Every day, they get worse," said Raymond J. Lovett, who studied ship recycling for the defense department.  PHOTO 4: WOOD APPEARS behind the peeled skin of the Clamp, the World War II salvage vessel that contains PCB's, asbestos and other hazardous materials. PHOTO 5: U.S. MARITIME ADMINISTRATION officials cross the deck of one of the four obsolete ships being prepared for the 5,000-mile tow to the Texas scrap yard. PHOTO 6: EGRETS FLY OVER the marshes that abut the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in Solano County, where the lack of environmental monitoring "is extremely troubling," environmentalist Richard Gutierrez said. PHOTO 7: A SIDE VIEW of the ship shows severe rust and peeling paint in Suisun Bay. The U.S. Maritime Administration will miss by years a Sept. 30 deadline to get rid of the vessels. (Karl Mondon/ Times); GRAPHIC: "Mothball fleet facts." (Times) Suisun Bay fleet hardly shipshape Rustbuckets bearing flaking lead paint, oil, PCBs grow too flimsy, costly to sail

Byline: Thomas Peele

Times Staff Writer

Obsolete ships anchored in Suisun Bay have decayed so much that the U.S. government sometimes pays more to scrap just one of them than it spends in a year to maintain the entire fleet, federal documents show. Hazardous materials including asbestos, PCBs, lead paint, mercury, chromates, toxic tin and arsenic are omnipresent in the fleet. What makes the ships expensive to get rid of also makes them dangerous.

The vessels, many of them World War II relics, must be made safe enough to stay afloat for the 45-day tow to Texas scrapping yards. One environmentalist called the fleet a "ticking time bomb." An engineer familiar with the ships questioned whether some of them can survive the trip to Texas. U.S. Maritime Administration officials insisted the ships are safe, but for more than a year, they have stalled release of hull testing data the Times requested under the Freedom of Information Act. That data is critical to assessing a ship's stability, engineers said. some obsolete ships in the national inventory have hulls so weak that a hammer blow could rupture them, a federal report states. But none of the ships in California waters is that weak, the acting director of the U.S. Maritime Administration and other bureaucrats insisted Friday. They had come from Washington, D.C., to lead a tour of the vessels.

They spoke as they crunched through piles of lead-laced paint chips that had flaked from badly rusting walls.

"Not one ship has sunk," said administration spokeswoman Shannon Russell. She and others insisted the vessels are strong enough to survive the 5,000-mile trip to Texas.

The ships are "an immediate environmental threat," U.S. Department of Transportation investigators found nearly six years ago. Since then, the ships have decayed further, environmentalists and ship engineers said.

"Every day, they get worse," said Raymond J. Lovett. "Suisun Bay is the next problem waiting to happen." Lovett is the technical director of Ship Recycling Institute in Philadelphia and a chemist who specializes in hazardous materials.

"The condition of some of the ships is pitiful," he said.

The fleet continues to "pose potentially costly environmental threats to the waterways … where (they) are stored," states a congressional report released last year. After bumbling for decades and missing congressional deadlines to scrap reserve fleets in California, Virginia and Texas, the U.S. Maritime administration is attempting to accelerate its ship disposal. The agency is a branch of the federal transportation department that maintains National Defense Reserve Fleets. Now, the vessels have decayed so badly that it is costing more than $1 million each to send some of them to scrapping yards, and environmentalists and engineers worry about ecological disasters.

The last five scrapped Suisun fleet ships cost $4.97 million to make them seaworthy enough to tow to Texas scrapping yards. The Wabash, a World War II tanker, cost $1.4 million. The administration budgeted $1.2 million in fiscal 2006 to maintain the Suisun fleet. Seven more ships are scheduled for removal from the fleet by the end of the year.

The administration will miss by years a Sept. 30 congressional deadline to get rid of reserve vessels. A 2005 report by a government watchdog agency ripped the administration's inability to manage ship disposal.

Program leaders failed to develop a comprehensive scrapping plan and instead made decisions on a ship-by-ship basis that Government Accountability Office auditors said were overly bureaucratic. The leaders also did not grasp the difficult environmental and legal hurdles facing them.

In a letter to the administration dated May 10, U.S. Reps. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and George Miller, D-Martinez, asked for a briefing on the program and its expected failure to meet the Sept. 30 deadline.

Congress did not give the agency enough money to meet the deadline, said the former acting head of the Maritime Administration.

The first priority has been to remove ships in Virginia's James River that are in worse condition than those in California, said John Jamian, who resigned his post May 2. The administration has removed 50 Virginia ships in the past six years.

Jamian said the Suisun fleet "is in pretty good shape," but he did not discuss specifics. The administration failed to release documents related to more than half the Suisun fleet sought by the Times in a March 2005 Freedom of Information Act request. Those documents would show hull condition and other safety factors. An administration lawyer said the request would take more months to process after the unexplained delay.

The request "fell through the cracks," Russell said Records show that 57 of the older Suisun vessels contain more than 3.3 million gallons of low-grade fuel oil. Most of it is likely congealed into a tarlike goo.

The still unrevealed hull data is critical to assessing many of the risks of the ships and the oil they carry, Lovett said.

"The older the ship, the thinner the hull," he said. "You have to know specifics."

In addition to not releasing documents, the administration refused for more than a month to allow Times journalists to tour the Suisun fleet. It relented on Friday after Russell and acting administration head Julie A. Nelson flew from Washington to California. The view from a small boat the group took into the restricted fleet zone revealed several older vessels listing under the weight of water in their hulls and dozens of badly rusted ships covered with thick chips of flaking paint.

The Clamp, a World War II rescue ship, appeared badly decayed. Wood could be seen behind peeled away steel at the waterline. Fleet superintendent Joe Pecoraro said there was steel behind the wood and that the ship was not in danger.

It is "inevitable" that lead paint and possibly other contaminates fall into the bay, said Frank X. Johnston, the administration's western regional director. He said little can be done other than to monitor the ships with flooding alarms and visual checks to make sure they stay afloat. Maintenance crews use an electrical charge to slow rusting. As of May 12, 77 ships were anchored in Suisun Bay, according to inventory documents.

Fifty-one of them are in some stage of being readied for disposal, a process that includes reviewing their historical significance. Twelve belong to the Nav y, Coast Guard or government science agencies.

The Defense Department holds six in reserve for military use. Six others are held for historic reasons or possible donations as museums. Only two Suisun ships belong to the Ready Reserve Force, a fleet of cargo ships that can be quickly activated for war or national emergency.

Twenty-seven of the ships sailed in World War II, including the battleship Iowa and the tugboat Hoga, which survived the Pearl Harbor attack. Another 39, mostly merchant marine and military cargo ships, were built between 1950 and 1969. The other 10 were built between 1970 and 1987.

"It's a junkyard out there, a ticking time bomb," said Saul Bloom, director of a San Francisco environmental group, Arc Ecology. He has watched and researched the Suisun fleet for years.

"I have no confidence in (the maritime administration's) processes for being environmentally responsible," Bloom said. A reserve fleet mishap is as inevitable as an earthquake, he said. "It's not a question of if but when."

The administration did release a few documents that show asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, on more than 30 Suisun ships. Engineers said it can be safely assumed they are present in nearly all the vessels.

Some of the asbestos has decayed to the point where it is friable - the dustlike stage where it can lodge in the lungs, reports show.

"PCBs are of particular concern" and asbestos is omnipresent, according to a 1994 Halliburton Corporation environmental analysis of obsolete ships.

PCB reports for individual ships showed no leaks, but most of the testing was done 10 to 15 years ago. The toxic materials are in everything from doors to duct tape to cables and transformers, from which they can sweat or leak.

"There are no PCBs leaving the ships. There is no asbestos leaving the ships," Russell said. "The administration is dedicated to the safe disposal of these ships."

The PCB reports show "vast quantities" of the  carcinogen, said Chein Kao, an Arc Ecology scientist who analyzed the reports.

"We are talking about a process of decay in the sea environment, like rusting, that occurs more quickly than on land," Kao said. There is "the potential for release with very high concentrations going into the bay."

Five spills have been reported at the Suisun fleet in the past 15 years, the largest being 30 gallons of oil, said Russell, the administration's spokeswoman. All appropriate spill prevention and emergency plans are in place, she said.

Last year, the administration increased the water it removes from the ships and dumps into Benicia's sewer system, pumping out more than 45,000 gallons in July, city records show. City tests on the water before it went into the sewers found no contaminates exceeding safe levels.

The testing showed high levels of sodium. Russell said the water was accumulated rainfall. She wrote in an e-mail that "we do not believe sodium levels in the sewer water are from our ships." The water came directly from the ships and was tested before it went into the sewers.

Lovett said the sodium indicates that bay water could have entered the ships, a sign of hull decay.

"There aren't too many other sources of sodium in the marine environment other than salt water," he said.

Too far gone to tow

The West Coast has no active ship scrapping yards.

That means the vessels must be prepared for a 45-day voyage to Texas through the Panama Canal, a roughly 5,000-mile journey.

Two World War II-era gasoline tankers towed from Suisun Bay to a Texas scrapping yard last year were in such poor shape that engineers who prepared them for the voyage made bets on whether they would sink.

It cost taxpayers more than $2.5 million to dispose of those tankers, the Wabash and Nemasket. At least their steel was recycled. The administration recently spent $2.85 million to remove PCBs and other hazards from three other ships so the Navy can tow them out in the ocean later this year and sink them for target practice 

An engineer familiar with Suisun ships said it is ridiculous for them to be more than 80 percent prepared for recycling only to sink them at a time when the world is struggling to preserve natural resources and steel is selling for as much as $400 a ton. Ships in Suisun range on gross weight from less than 2,000 tons to more than 37,000 tons.

"I have a real problem about seeing steel go to the bottom of the ocean when it can be recycled," said Werner Hoyt, the engineer who often prepares Suisun ships for towing. "Copper and nickel are getting $3 a pound. Aluminum is $1 a pound. Come on."

The administration is close to awarding nearly $4 million in contracts to take four decrepit World War II Victory-class ships from California to Texas for scrapping. People familiar with those ships fear that strong Pacific waves could tear apart their hulls and send them plunging to the bottom.

A similar Victory ship nearly sank 12 miles off southern Florida in December 2001 when a hull patch came off and the ship flooded while under tow to a scrapping yard. It had 57,000 gallons of oil aboard. The hulls of the four Victories have decayed along the water line and bolt heads have rusted off. Heavy seas could flex "the hulls enough that they could pop," Hoyt said. He and John E. Gibbons, an Antioch resident and ship recycling consultant, exhaustively reviewed the Red Oak Victory, a ship of the same class. It was taken from Suisun Bay in 1998 and partially restored in Richmond, where it serves as a floating museum.

"It was the pick of the litter out there," Gibbons said, and it still had hull degradation around the waterline of about 50 percent.

The report concluded that Suisun Victory-class ships had decayed so much that they would be extremely dangerous to tow in the ocean and costly to make safe.

The Coast Guard must OK the ships before they can be moved. "We have to approve a dead-ship tow" after reviewing safety plans, said Capt. Gerald Swanson.

Despite the Victory ships' badly rusted condition, most of the decay is "cosmetic," said Curt J. Michanczyk, manager of the administration's ship disposal program.

The Victory ships have "a huge problem with the thickness of the hulls.

They are very, very thin," Lovett said.

The administration has waited too long and fumbled too many chances to safely recycle the ships, said Bloom of Arc Ecology.

"When you deal with the Maritime Administration at the level of these ships, it's like Alice in Wonderland," said Bloom of Arc Ecology.

"Everything is through the looking glass. Nothing is as it should be."

A 2001 report shows that three of the four Victory ships soon to leave for Texas could have more than 180,000 gallons of fuel oil in their tanks. 

Russell would not provide updated figures or discuss how much oil the individual ships carry. She cited what she called national security concerns.

Revealing the ships' fuel loads could make them a terrorist target, said administration lawyer Christine Garland.

The Victory ships will be towed through the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico at five to seven knots.

captains could seek shelter from storms in safe harbors along the route, but the seas are unpredictable and the ships old and weak.

"That's the thing about the Pacific," Lovett said. "The Pacific has a knack of being a little rough."

No monitoring of bay

There is little monitoring of the fleet's effect on the Suisun Bay environment.

Russell said that "various local and state agencies" such as the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Game monitor the fleet.

But California Public Records Act requests to those agencies turned up no documentation of testing, and spokespersons for those agencies said they are not done. The California Department of Toxic Substance Control also said it had no record of correspondence with the administration about the fleet.

"We have no records of any contacts with the Maritime Administration,"

Stephen Morse, the water board's assistant director, wrote in an e-mail.

The absence of outside environmental monitoring "is extremely troubling," said Richard Gutierrez, of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle environmental group. It joined with the Sierra Club to sue to stop the Maritime Administration's disposal of ships in foreign markets.

"They are just a risk by sitting there," Gutierrez said. "PCBs can leach. Asbestos can crumble. These are big issues for the environment and the community."

"We have done nothing to determine the legacy of contamination in Suisun Bay," said Gibbons. He has analyzed ship recycling for the National Environmental Education Training Center in Pennsylvania. It receives Defense Department funding

"What is leaching into the bay? There is flaking lead paint. There are other paints and hull coatings that are flaking," Gibbons said. "There should be adequate sampling surveys around these ships to see what contaminants are in the water."

Lovett said the administration has a long record of not providing information from which such determinations can be made.

"They are just totally not forthcoming," he said. "Everything they seem to handle and they handle ineffectively and inefficiently."

Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this story. Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter. Reach him at 925-977-8463 to Tpeele@cctimes.com



Author: tpe

FEW OPTIONS FOR SCRAPPING OBSO ... 05/14/2006 Contra Costa Times

Section:  News

Published: 05/14/2006

Page: a08

Keywords: Shipping

Caption: PHOTO 1: THE SUISUN BAY RESERVE FLEET, as seen from Solano County on Friday, is made up of 77 ships and is less costly to maintain annually than it is to scrap just one on them, government documents show. PHOTO 2: THE CLAMP, a 214 foot long World War II salvage vessel, containing PCB's, asbestos and other hazardous materials rests in calm Suisun Bay waters on Friday. PHOTO 3: SAUL BLOOM, of the environmental group arc ecology, stands outside a dry dock facility at the former hunter's point naval shipyard in san francisco. bloom supports recycling ships in the bay area. (Karl Mondon/ Times); PHOTO 4: THE RESERVE FLEET held more than 400 ships, as seen in this 1959 photo. Environmentalists say that despite decades of ship storage, an ecological assessment of Suisun Bay has never been done. (U.S. Maritime Administration Photo File


Few options for scrapping obsolete ships

Byline: Thomas Peele

Times Staff Writer

There is nothing easy or cheap about getting rid of an old ship.

When the price of recycled steel was low, the U.S. Maritime Administration tried to sell obsolete vessels but could find no buyers.

Now, foreign demand for steel is high, with prices ranging from $250 to $500 a ton, the administration is paying companies millions to scrap ships.

The vessels range in size from the small WW II rescue ship Clamp at 1,196 gross tons to at least five ships of more than 37,000 gross tons.

There are no active scrapping yards on the West Coast and the United States bans sending ships containing hazardous materials to other countries for disposal. That leaves scrapping yards on the Texas coast as the only option for administration vessels in Suisun Bay.

Former Maritime Administration head John Jamian said the he would like to see foreign options explored, despite congressional, EPA and environmentalist opposition.

"I am not saying we should do it, but it is something we should explore," Jamian said. "There are domestic capacity issues. Forced competition keeps the market moving."

In 2003 the administration sent 13 ships from its Virginia fleet to a scrapper in Teesside, England. The Sierra Club and the Seattle-based Basel Action Network sued to block the ships from being scrapped. The matter is also being litigated in Great Britain.

"We are very worried that this case could open a floodgate," Richard Guiterrez of the Basel Action Network said. "The U.S. can't export toxic material. The Maritime Administration is gravely mistaken about this."

Environmentalists recently forced the abandonment of a Virginia company's proposal to recycle ships in Oregon, where they would have been hauled out of the water and cut apart on beaches. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in February that he would only permit ship recycling in dry docks.

Two empty dry docks in the Bay Area could handle ship recycling, one on Mare Island in Vallejo and the other at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco where the Navy cut up three frigates in 2000 and 2001.

But even with their proximity to the Suisun fleet, strict environmental regulations, state toxic waste requirements and labor costs make those locations likely money losers, one expert said.

"We can't compete with Texas where they pay minimum wage," said Werner Hoyt, an engineer who has worked in the ship recycling industry.

"The guys in Brownsville can bid against us and absorb the cost in reduced labor" payrolls.

The Maritime Administration pays companies to recycle obsolete ships, with the scrap becoming the company's property. Steel, bronze and aluminum is recycled. Thousands of tons of hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs and lead have to be disposed of.

Still, with steel prices high, Hoyt estimated a company could gross millions from recycling large ships with "good profits" after labor and environmental expenses.

The time for ship recycling at Hunters Point has passed, even though the West Coast's largest dry dock sits unused there, said Saul Bloom, a member of the former base's citizen's advisory committee and director of the San Francisco environmental group Arc Ecology.

"Not now, not with housing being built here," Bloom said.

Still Hunter's Point could be the safest way to dispose of the Suisun fleet, said Raymond. J. Lovett of the Ship Recycling Institute in Philadelphia.

The ships would only need to be towed across San Francisco Bay, their steel could be loaded directly onto container ships for transport to Asian markets and California has strict rules to protect the environment.


Thomas Peele is a Times investigative reporter. Reach him at 925-977-8463 or tpeele@cctimes.com.