1st ship to be recycled at Mare Island
By Donna Beth Weilenman
If the weather holds, a cargo vessel that has been sitting in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet since 1988 will be leaving at 8 a.m. Wednesday for Mare Island in Vallejo, where it will be dismantled — the first of the fleet’s obsolete vessels to be taken apart on the West Coast.
Cheron Victoria Wicker and Kim Riddle of the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Public Affairs said the SS Solon Turman will be taken to California Dry Dock Solutions, rather than undertake a lengthier and costlier trip through the Panama Canal to Texas, as many other ships of the fleet have done over the past 16 months.
The Solon Turman, expected to reach its final destination by 11 a.m., represents the culmination of the Vallejo company’s seven-year effort to get the dry docks on Mare Island ready, and to be the first West Coast company certified by the U.S. Maritime Administration to participate in the dismantling of the non-retention ships in the fleet.
MARAD announced Nov. 9 that California Dry Dock Solutions had been awarded a $3.1 million contract to dismantle both the SS Solon Turman and the SS President. The departure of the Solon Turman puts MARAD well ahead of schedule in pulling the obsolete vessels from Suisun Bay, Wicker and Riddle said in the announcement released Tuesday.
MARAD’s disposal schedule calls for pulling 20 ships from the Reserve Fleet by Sept. 30. “(Wednesday’s) departure of the SS Solon Turman puts us at 85 percent of our goal for 2011,” they said.
Using the Vallejo dry dock is a time and money saver for MARAD, said Jay Anast, owner of California Dry Dock Solutions, a Petaluma-based firm that also operates as Allied Defense Recycling.
To tow the ships first to San Francisco for cleaning and preparation, then to Texas or the East Coast by way of the Panama Canal to reach certified recyclers, has been costing MARAD about $1.5 million per ship, U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John D. Porcari said in 2009 when he came to Benicia to announce the ships would be leaving Suisun Bay.
Because no nearer company was certified to do the work, each ship that has left the Reserve Fleet since October 2009 has had to be towed 5,000 miles after spending time in San Francisco for cleaning and preparation for the long trip.
“To get the same ship into the Mare Island drydock will cost about $50,000,” Anast said.
And at Mare Island, the ships can be cleaned, prepared and dismantled within the containment of a single dry dock — another first for MARAD.
“Our goal has always been to remove the environmentally hazardous ships from the Bay,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, when the contract was announced. “And we’ve worked diligently with local groups and elected officials so that we create jobs here in Vallejo.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “These contracts will help the local economy while advancing our mission of maintaining the fleet in a safe and environmentally sound manner.”
Environmentalists, such as Saul Bloom, founder and executive director of Arc Ecology, have also supported the move to Mare. “Some of the vessels slated for recycling will be the source of new employment and economic development in Vallejo and the county,” Bloom said.
His is one of several organizations that have been active in seeking the removal of the deteriorating Reserve Fleet ships.
While Anast said he still considers the Mare Island operation a start-up, he added, “at full capacity, we’ll have about 120 employees.”
At full speed, the company expects to be able to handle up to four ships at a time, he said.
Anast said about 100 companies are operating on Mare Island. “We’ll have a direct impact on business.”
At one time, some wondered if the company would be certified to do the work before MARAD ran out of obsolete ships.
MARAD expects to have 57 obsolete ships removed from Suisun Bay by Sept. 30, 2017, with the 20 in worst condition gone by Sept. 30, 2012 — leaving Anast plenty more ships on which to bid. He said his company is capable of handling all but five or six of the largest ships.
Another benefit of having the ships recycled at Mare Island is the possibility of selling some of the ships’ artifacts to collectors who stop at the island Historic District’s gift shops.
Anast said in November that some items — such as crew paintings, portholes, brass plates and other memorabilia — have a market with maritime aficionados and those who may have served aboard the old ships.
Much of the recycled metal — such as scrap steel, brass, copper and aluminum — will stay in the United States, although some will be shipped to Asia.
The Solon Turman was a breakbulk cargo vessel and steam freighter built in 1961 by Bethlehem Steel in San Francisco.
The ship was constructed for the Lykes Brothers Steamship Co. of New Orleans. It served in commercial trade for 27 years until it was traded by the company to MARAD for a new ship in 1988.
Initially the ship was listed as a Ready Reserve Fleet vessel until 2003, when it was downgraded to inactive reserve status and ultimately declared a nonretention vessel.