October 10, 2008

Cayman Islands to Scuttle US Navy Ship, Create Artificial Reef and Tourist Attraction

By Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The Cayman Islands announced plans to scuttle a decommissioned U.S. Navy ship to create an underwater attraction for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Ownership of the USS Kittiwake, a 2,290-ton submarine rescue ship, will be transferred from the U.S. Maritime Administration to the Cayman Islands government this fall, project manager Nancy Easterbrook said.

Toxic materials must first be removed by contractors from the vessel built in 1945, before the ship is sunk next year in the Caribbean Sea as an artificial reef. It has been anchored for years among rusting hulks of the James River Reserve Fleet, commonly known as the "Ghost Fleet," in St. Eustis, Virginia.

The 251-foot Kittiwake should attract large schools of fish to deserted cabins and halls, according to Charles Clifford, the islands' minister of tourism.

"Our seafaring heritage, our strong interest in presenting varied tourism offerings and our belief in preserving the environment, all played a major role in the decision to acquire this," Clifford said in a statement.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. A public affairs officer for the U.S. Maritime Administration did not return calls or e-mail.

The Cayman Islands, a British dependency and offshore banking haven, already is well known among divers around the world.

In 1996, the Caribbean territory sunk a 330-foot Russian destroyer in 60 feet of water off Cayman Brac.

The wreck, now decorated with a thick coating of sponges and corals, has attracted an assortment of tourists and fish.

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