May 17, 2006

Navy sinks retired warship for reef off Florida

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Navy blasted holes in the retired
aircraft carrier Oriskany off Florida's coast on Wednesday and
sent the warship to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico as the
world's largest intentionally created artificial reef.

The 888-foot, 32,000-ton combat veteran of the Korean and
Vietnam wars took about 35 minutes to settle below the surface
after crews set off 22 small explosive charges in her hull,
Navy spokeswoman Pat Dolan said.

The rusting ship, decommissioned in 1976, was expected to
settle upright in 212 feet of water, which would put her
highest point about 60 feet under the surface for the
recreational divers who will explore the vessel in the future.

"There was a puff of smoke that came out of the carrier
when they set off the charges," she said. "The divers will go
down tomorrow to check the orientation of the ship."

Dozens of boats ferried U.S. war veterans out to the site,
24 miles off Pensacola, Florida, to witness the sinking.

The Navy spent about $20 million to strip the ship of toxic
materials, tow it to the site and send it to the bottom. A
Florida State University study estimated the artificial reef
would bring $92 million a year in benefits to the local

Artificial reefs are created by the sinking of ships, old
concrete pipes and other debris that becomes a lively habitat
for fish, corals and other sea creatures. They are popular with
scuba divers and can become major tourist attractions for
nearby communities.

The storied Oriskany was built at the New York naval
shipyard in 1945 and served in the Korean War and in Vietnam,
where some of its pilots, including Republican U.S. Sen. John
McCain of Arizona, became prisoners of war.

The Oriskany was used as a set in the 1955 movie "The
Bridges at Toko-Ri" with William Holden and Mickey Rooney.