On a sunny day in August, the Bush Administration reached an important landmark in mitigating a potential threat to the environment of the historic James River in Virginia, as a decommissioned ship was towed away to be recycled. I watched with Representative Rob Wittman and members of the media as the former oiler Truckee was towed out—the 75th ship to leave the fleet for recycling since January of 2001.
The Department of Transportation keeps ships in three National Defense Reserve Fleet sites—in Virginia, California, and Texas—to support Armed Forces movements and to respond to national emergencies. When the ships become obsolete, the Maritime Administration arranges for their disposition in an environmentally-sensitive manner.
In January 2001, there were 107 ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet site at Fort Eustis, Virginia, near the historic Jamestown site. At that time the James River fleet contained 37 of the worst 40 ships—that is, the ones most likely to deteriorate and leak oil or otherwise contaminate the environment. We had few resources to dispose of obsolete ships, but we got great help from the Virginia delegation and new incentives as prices for scrap steel rose. Now, all 37 of those ships are gone. Out of the 107 ships in our three fleets in 2001, now only 34 ships remain. By year’s end, we hope to be down to 15.
What’s more, we have taken measures to make sure that our old ships never again pose a threat to the environment. The Department of Transportation instituted an Environmental Excellence Initiative, whereby ships have to be cleaned and emptied of oil before they come into the National Defense Reserve Fleet, so it is safer to keep them there.
To learn more about our ship disposal program, check out our web site at www.marad.dot.gov.