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Eighth ship leaves bay

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THE GETTYSBURG, left, a tanker built in 1957, was towed out of Suisun Bay to San Francisco on Friday.
Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

Reserve Fleet loses another member

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A liquid bulk tanker originally built for the Esso Shipping Company has been towed from the Maritime Administration Reserve Fleet moored in Suisun Bay.

The Gettysburg, which at one time was among the fastest tankers in the world, has left the Maritime Administration’s Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay to be cleaned and dismantled.

The tanker, a long ship painted a light blue-green, was pulled by tugboats Friday morning from its mooring at the end of one of the Reserve Fleet’s rows. It then was towed under the Benicia Bridge on its way to San Francisco in preparation for its trip through the Panama Canal to Texas, where it will be recycled.

The Gettysburg is the eighth ship to be removed from the Reserve Fleet since October, when the U.S. Department of Defense and the Maritime Administration, or MARAD, announced it would start dismantling the obsolete ships that are moored in Suisun Bay.

The Gettysburg was built in 1957 for Esso Shipping Company at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. It originally was christened the Esso Gettysburg by Mrs. W.R. Stott, wife of a director of Standard Oil of New Jersey.

The ship was one of the largest in the fleet belonging to Esso, the oil company that derived its name from pronouncing the initials “S.O.” of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the company’s name prior to 1911. Esso remains the international trade name for ExxonMobil and its related companies.

The tanker was designed to be more than an oil carrier. It was built to be capable of serving the United States during wars or other national emergencies, and its horsepower was nearly double that of Esso’s 27,300-deadweight-ton supertankers.

When full, the Gettysburg could carry 317,715 barrels of oil and sustain a sea speed of 18.3 knots.

During its active years, the ship provided every crewmember his own room and had such amenities as air cooling, modern furniture and a 21-inch television in both officers’ lounges and the crew’s recreation room. It was equipped with contemporary communication systems of the day, including radio-telephone, radar and loran sets.

Reflecting the domestic change in its company’s name, the ship was renamed Exxon Gettysburg in 1973. The vessel later was acquired by MARAD and entered Suisun Bay as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 1987. Its commercial identity was dropped in 1989 and it was renamed the Gettysburg.

The tanker is the latest of the ships to leave Suisun Bay in action that began Oct. 22, 2009, when John D. Porcari, U.S. Transportation deputy secretary, announced in Benicia that MARAD would start removing the first 25 ships.

That move was praised by environmentalists, who had been concerned that tons of toxic paint flakes and fluids have been contaminating the bay for years. Several environmental agencies had accused MARAD of knowingly storing hazardous waste at the site.

Last March, MARAD agreed that all 52 obsolete ships moored in Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet would be removed by Sept. 30, 2017, and that the 20 in poorest condition would be gone by Sept. 30, 2012. MARAD also agreed it would regularly clean and maintain the ships waiting their turn for departure.

Because no West Coast company currently is certified to handle the ships’ dismantling, they are towed to Brownsville, Texas after they have been cleaned in San Francisco dry docks.

MARAD has two other fleet storage sites — in James River, Va., and Beaumont, Texas.


❒ Transporting old ships presents unique set of challenges

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

When the Gettysburg left the Maritime Administration Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, it was an easier move than when some of the other ships are pulled from their moorings — for the simple reason that the huge tanker was at the end of a row.

“That’s the most ideal way,” Fleet Reserve Program Manager Joe Pecoraro said.

But other ships, such as the Gen. John Pope that was hauled out earlier this month, are snugly packed in the middle of a row, so close to neighbors that a person standing on one deck can reach out and touch the ship next door.

A 7:30 a.m. departure for one of those ships nested in the middle of a row means work that can start as early as 3 or 4 a.m., Pecoraro said, although preparation may have started two weeks before to loosen a vessel from its mooring.

Each ship has its own anchors and chains, he said. The anchors weigh 20,000 pounds, and it takes a floating barge to move that much weight. A row of ships is kept so close together that, while they are moored, the row usually moves as a single entity.

That means weather rarely upsets a row. But in 1989, a nasty wind broke apart a row, causing its ships to displace two other rows.

Luckily, Pecoraro said, no ship went aground, and nothing left the fleet boundaries “The type of anchoring used performed as expected.”

The rows of giant war ships must be kept in place when one of the ships is being pulled away, and that’s the job of the tugboats and their operators. As many as nine tugs may be needed to break a row apart, remove a ship, and shove the row back together, Pecoraro said.

The whole procedure usually takes from six to eight hours, he said, “although the Patrick (USNS Gen. Edwin D. Patrick) went out lickity-split.” Wind made the bay’s water rougher the day the Gen. Pope was pulled, and added two hours to the job.

Two tugs work the row from its in-shore side, raising bubbly wakes as they battle to keep the line of war ships in place. The vessel that is slated to be towed away is untied from its row on one side.

Then the tugs split the row, pushing from the other end of the lineup while the other side of the departing ship is untied.

To keep the row of metal leviathans under control, the tugs must bear in on the row the entire time, Pecoraro said.

“Then the ship is pulled out of the row,” he said.

Sometimes, another ship is slid into the gap in the row, or another ship that is slated to be removed later is moved to a row’s end.

At the end of the endeavor, the little tugs will have shoved the row back together, with the ships nested side by side. There they’ll stay — until the next vessel is slated to leave.

Written by beniciaherald

May 21, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Posted in News

One Response

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  1. Great article and fabulous photo, too!


    May 22, 2010 at 1:01 am

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