New MARAD Administrator Visits Norfolk, VA as Congressionally Mandated September 30 "Ghost Ship" De

Sean Connaughton's recent high-profile visit to the port of Norfolk, VA almost coincided with a Sept. 30 deadline imposed by Congress in 2002 to remove all unwanted, obsolete ships from the nation’s three ghost fleets. Connaughton gave no specific timetable as to when the obsolete vessels might be removed, but he expressed optimism that increased capacities for ship recycling and disposal and rising steel prices would provide more opportunities to move still more ships out more quickly. According to MARAD, a total of 54 of the unwanted ships have been removed from the fleet since 2001.

Only recently confirmed by the Senate, Connaughton directs the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and its $800 million budget. Among the many tasks assigned to MARAD is the eventual disposal of the so-called “Ghost Fleet” vessels moored in three locations nationwide. The two other fleets are located in Beaumont, TX and Suisun Bay, CA. According to the Agency’s 2005 Annual Report to Congress, MARAD had exceeded its ship disposal goal of 15 during 2005; awarding a total of 20 contracts. Additionally, MARAD reported that the coast-per-ton for obsolete vessel disposal actions from the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) was about $109 per ton, far less than the goal of $170 per ton. Congress provided just $19.5 million for the task during fiscal year 2005.

MARAD has said that it has enacted several recommendations from the April 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office for improving its efforts to dispose of obsolete ships. Additionally, MARAD is looking beyond the option of scrapping and / or recycling and has been exploring the intentional sinking of obsolete vessels to create artificial reefs.

MARAD’s progress with their ship disposal program has not been without its difficulties. A new interagency agreement with the US Coast guard calls for MARAD to clean the hulls of vessels destined for removal in order to prevent the transfer of invasive species into other waters during the towing process. The controversial program is not without its detractors and although MARAD has maintained that only organic matter would be left in the water after these procedures, a west coast newspaper has said that a recent report prepared for the US government indicates that paint and hull coatings are also being peeled away from these ships during the “scrubbing” operation.

The disclosures well illustrate the difficulties in satisfying a wide range of environmental requirements while fulfilling Congressional mandates to dispose of the decaying and potentially dangerous hulls. It was unclear as to how MARAD would proceed with future planned ship disposals in the face of the new information. Both MARAD and the Coast Guard said that they would continue to work together to resolve the issue.