U.S. ship's final mission: to be a reef in the Keys

Vandenberg


By Cammy Clark - The Miami Herald


Key West should have a new tourist attraction this week when a mothballed military ship is sunk and becomes an artificial reef.

If all goes according to a meticulous plan Wednesday morning, 42 explosive charges will detonate, seawater will pour in, and the massive USAFS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg will sink upright to the ocean bottom.

The final mission for the rusting, 66-year-old ship will be an admirable one: serving as an artificial reef.

''I can't think of a better final use of a ship that has had a long, hard career all around the world,'' said Malcolm ''Mac'' Monroe, who worked on the vessel when it was an Air Force missile tracker during the Cold War.

While Key West is now celebrating the scuttling that will occur 6 ½ miles offshore and provide an economic boost for years to come, the Vandenberg was a controversial project on the brink of failing several times.

It took 14 years, $8.6 million in mostly public funds, endless volunteer hours navigating 18 government agencies, and a winning auction bid by a local bank on courthouse steps that prevented the ship's purchase by metal scrappers.

"After all that, the sinking will take 2 ½, maybe three minutes," said Joe Weatherby, the Key West dive boat captain who began the project in 1996 by choosing the Vandenberg out of a booklet of 400 mothballed military ships. "But it all will be worth it," he said. "I believe it will be the finest product ever produced for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing."



Key West artificial reef USAFS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Malcolm ''Mac'' Monroe