Former USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Sunk to Create Artificial Reef

Former missile tracker intentionally sunk in the Florida Keys, creating a new artificial reef for sport divers and anglers.

The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg sank in less than two minutes Wednesday morning – about one year later than project supporters would have hoped – after demolition experts triggered a series of explosions on both sides of the vessel. The sinking of the 17,000-ton ship reportedly resulted in it settling on the bottom of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in an upright position. Divers will eventually confirm the actual position and condition of the ship.

Local officials are hopeful that the vessel will generate up to $8 million in tourism-related revenue annually, primarily from divers and related support businesses. The sinking of the Vandenberg, a 522-foot ship that tracked manned space launches beginning with Mercury through early Space Shuttle missions, has been the obsession of members of the Artificial Reefs of the Keys for the last 10 years. You can see the project in detail at www.bigshipwrecks.com.

Project organizers overseeing the conversion of a retired U.S. Air Force missile tracking ship (into an artificial reef off Key West) had originally hoped that the vessel could be scuttled as early as May of last year, but logistical and funding issues greatly delayed that event.

The ship was prepared in a Virginia shipyard with workers ridding the vessel of all environmental hazards, prior to its scuttling in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. According to project supporters, the Vandenberg reef project will provide additional marine habitat and relieve recreational pressure off America’s only contiguous coral barrier reef. It should also provide a unique attraction for visitors as well as a venue for environmental educators and students.

“Not only do artificial reefs divert recreational user pressure from natural reefs, they also create a valuable habitat and new breeding grounds for the marine environment”, said Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers. “The Vandenberg will provide tools and resources to create sustained educational, social and cultural programs while also generating substantial revenues for the community.”

The Vandenberg was originally commissioned in 1944 as Gen. Harry Taylor to serve as a World War II Army troop transport ship. In 1963 the ship was re-commissioned under its current name and served in the Atlantic Missile Range becoming one of the most technologically advanced platforms in the world during that era. Retired in 1983, the Vandenberg also saw cinema duty as a Russian science ship in "Virus," a 1999 release starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

The long road for the approvals, fundraising shipyard preparations and red tape required for the reefing of the old ship is finally over. The concept of “reefing” old ships is getting renewed interest because of it, and MARAD no doubt is encouraged by the possibility of more of this sort of thing in the future.

See the Vandenberg sink (video by CNN) by clicking HERE.

MarEx Note: The USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg was MarEx Editor Joe Keefe’s first ship after graduation from MMA in 1980. He sailed on the Vandenberg from July 1980 until January 1981. Read our article about the Vandy, first published on November 9, 2006 by clicking HERE.