Mothball Fleet Continues to Pollute Suisun Bay

North of San Francisco Bay is San Pablo Bay, and east of that, through the Mare Island Strait, is Suisun Bay, where the U.S. Navy stores the old and obsolete vessels of its “Ghost Fleet”–mothballed battlewagons, merchant and reserve ships that date back to the Second World War. One of the most famous and most venerable of that fleet is the U.S.S. Iowa, sister ship of the “Mighty Mo” and one of the last of the U.S. Navy’s full-sized battle ships. Recently, a San Francisco-based environmental group filed suit against the federal government in order to force action regarding the deteriorating ships, which are shedding tons of metal and toxic substances–including asbestos–into the water. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any oversight. Michael Wall, an environmental lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, points out that, “If a corporation were to float a rusty barrel of hazardous waste out there that would be against the law.” Saul Bloom, representing Arc Ecology, said, “We want them to stop polluting Suisun Bay by addressing the paint first and then finding an environmentally responsible way to dispose of the ships, preferably in the Bay Area.”

Arc Ecology monitors all types of pollution at federal facilities. These vessels have been scheduled to be scrapped. Ships similar to the 80 or so now sitting in Suisun Bay contained huge amounts of asbestos insulation on pipes, steam fittings, bulkheads and between decks. Sean T. Connaughton, who is a federal administrator for Maritime Affairs, attempted to assuage concerns, assuring the group that an “official statement” on safety steps being taken by the U.S. government would be forthcoming. For the moment, he says, “The best way… to protect the Suisun Bay is to remove these vessels in as timely a manner as possible. We hope this latest development does not needlessly delay our efforts to remove these vessels.” The National Maritime Administration is ultimately responsible for the cleanup at Suisun Bay and two other sites. The current lawsuit came about as a result of several news stories regarding the ongoing pollution problem and several months of inaction on the part of the federal agency.