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Nov. 1, 2007

Update: The sinking of the Texas Clipper has been rescheduled for Nov. 17, 2007.

Texas Clipper To Be Sunk as Artificial Reef

AUSTIN, Texas — When she is finally sent to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico Nov. 17*, the USTS (United States Training Ship) Texas Clipper will go down in history as the artificial reef that almost wasn’t.

The stakes were high all along: as an artificial reef, the ship is expected to generate as much as $30 million annually for local economies over a lifespan of at least 50 years. The complex, durable structure with its high, vertical profile will form the foundation of a vibrant community of corals and other invertebrates, as well as recreationally important “bottom” fish such as snappers and groupers, and pelagic species like cobia, king mackerel and dorado.

The 473-foot vessel was mothballed twice between periods of active sea service before retiring as the oldest ship in the United States Merchant Marine fleet in 1996. Then, on the cusp of being turned-over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as that agency’s most ambitious artificial reef project, the ship sank at her berth at the U.S. Maritime Administration facility near Beaumont, Texas. Even as she was raised and patched, last-minute negotiations saved the Texas Clipper from the scrap heap and she was towed to Brownsville, Texas, for environmental remediation and preparation as a reef.

“It would make a good movie, the twists and turns in this story,” said TPWD Artificial Reef Program Coordinator J. Dale Shively. “There were times when we thought for sure the project was dead.”

But nearly a decade after the state first applied to MARAD for the transfer of the Texas Clipper as part of the artificial reef program, success is in sight. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified Oct. 1 that the ship is free of hazardous materials. She will be towed to a site 17 nautical miles from South Padre Island, Texas. The next morning, workers will open valves to flood the ship and allow her to settle 134 feet to the hard sand bottom. Two days later, the site will be open to the public for diving and fishing.

“This ship has an incredible history,” said Shively. “Of course, after three decades as a Galveston-based training vessel, she has a very strong Texas connection. But we like to say she’s already had three lives, starting in the Pacific theatre during World War II, and her role as a reef will be her fourth life and final journey.”

The Texas Clipper, most recently (1965-1996) a maritime training vessel for Texas A&M University-Galveston, began her life as the USS Queens (APA-103), a WWII transport and attack ship. As the Queens, she participated in the Pacific war and was the first attack troop transport to arrive at Iwo Jima. After the war she was recommissioned as the SS Excambion, one of the post-war "four aces" of the American Export Lines. As the Excambion, she carried cargo and passengers in luxurious style between New York City and Mediterranean ports.

As an artificial reef, the Texas Clipper will be the site of several scientific monitoring programs. The University of Texas-Brownsville will partner with TPWD to monitor biological growth on the hull of the ship from the very beginning, and Texas A&M University and the National Marine Fisheries Service will conduct an ongoing experiment to look at the pace of corrosion in Gulf waters (this will be useful for, among other things, gauging the potential environmental impact of wrecks containing fuel, oil and other ecologically harmful substances).

“The benefits — to the local fishery, to the economy of South Texas, and to ongoing science — are tremendous,” said TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Director Larry D. McKinney, Ph.D. “The only reason we don’t have more of these complex reef communities in waters off Texas is because we lack the hard substrate that corals and other reef organisms need to get established. We can provide that with artificial reefs — whether former oil production platforms, concrete culverts or something as magnificent as this ship.”

Prepared for reefing by Resolve Marine Services, Inc. (with ESCO Marine, Inc. as subcontractor) in Brownsville, the Texas Clipper will go down as possibly the cleanest ship every deliberately sunk for this purpose. Remediation, just completed in recent months, has included the removal of 1,680 cu. yards of asbestos and more than 76,000 pounds of PCB-containing materials.

EDITORS: Seats are still available for journalists on boats going out Nov. 17 to observe the sinking of the ship. TPWD has extensive photo and video documentation of the entire USTS Texas Clipper reefing project, including the initial move from the ship’s "mothball" mooring near Beaumont, Texas. We also have historical photos of the ship under all three names.

* Correction, Nov 15, 2007: The sinking date has been postponed. The headline and text of this news release have been edited to reflect the latest information. (Return to corrected item.)

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AR 2007-11-01


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