SHROUDED by smoke from detonated explosives, a former World War Two US
troop ship was sunk off the Florida Keys to become a massive
artificial reef that authorities hope can revive the local economy and
environment. After the controlled explosive charges were set off, it
took only three minutes for the rust-streaked 523-foot (159 metre),
17,000-ton gray bulk of the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg to slip below
the surface. It sank 140 feet (43 meters) to settle on the sandy
bottom, seven miles off Key West on the southern tip of Florida.
The sinking turned the wartime relic, which also was used by the U.S.
Air Force to track Soviet missile launches during the Cold War and
still carried its big tracking dish, into one of the world's biggest
intentionally sunk artificial reefs.
Local officials and businessmen are hoping that in its new resting
place the Vandenberg will provide a boon to both the marine
environment and the local economy, which has felt the squeeze of the
global economic recession.
They expected the wreck would be an immediate underwater draw for
divers, while at the same time attracting fish, corals and other sea
creatures and so relieving the pressure on Key West's natural reefs
caused by diving, boating and fishing. "Divers like wrecks, fish like
wrecks. The Vandenberg will have a great profile underwater," said
Sheri Lohr, a retired dive shop owner involved in the Vandenberg
sinking project. "The economy's going to benefit ... We expect dive
shops to be out here within a few days," she said. Before it was
sunk, the Vandenberg was cleansed of contaminants, such as asbestos,
wiring, paint and other potentially toxic substances and debris, to
prevent it from damaging the ecology of the ocean floor in its new
Supporters of the artificial reef project hope the new underwater
attraction can generate up to $8 million annually in tourism-related
sales for Key West, as the wreck lures divers of all ages and skills
to explore its hulk and infrastructure. "The sinking of the
Vandenberg is the best thing to happen in Key West in years ... it
will definitely be a big help for the businesses on Duval Street (the
city's main tourist boulevard)," Key West City Commissioner and local
businessman Mark Rossi said. Reefmakers, the Moorestown, New Jersey,
company involved in the sinking has said most of the funding for the
$6 million project is coming from Florida Keys government sources,
including the region's tourism council.
The US Maritime Administration also is making a contribution. In
2006, the US Navy sunk the retired aircraft carrier Oriskany, an
888-foot (271-metre), 32,000-ton combat veteran of the Korean and
Vietnam wars, off Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico to make the world's
largest intentionally created artificial reef.
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