A group of about 129 old ships, collectively known as the Ghost Fleet, which sit idle in a half-dozen ports around the U.S maintained by the U. S. Navy and the U. S. Maritime Administration, or MarAd, have become a target for the industry known as shipbreaking.
All but shut down for a few years in the late 1990s amid environmental concerns, the shipbreaking business in the United States is making a comeback. It is being fueled by a convergence of government action with developments in the global steel, energy and freight in
The driving force is the steel business, which is booming amid demand from China and other fast-growing economies. Just under two-thirds of the 1 billion tons, or $400 billion, in new steel produced each year comes from iron ore. The rest is recycled from torn-up cars, washing machines, ships and other forms of scrap metal. Old ships are a major source of this recycled steel, providing as much as five percent of the scrap metal consumed annually.
But there’s a shortage of old ships available, with ships being kept in operation longer than normal to carry freight, oil, coal and other raw materials.
That helps explain why shipbreaking companies are fighting for a piece of the Ghost Fleet. Old ships can be bought all over the world, but the United States has one of the largest government-owned stockpiles and an active program to get rid of the ships for scrap or other uses.
Marad maintains three fleets in Virginia, Texas and California, spending thousands a year per ship trying to prevent corrosion, mold and mildew growth. As ship custodians for the federal government, the agency decides when to get rid of ships by paying a company to scrap them. Otherwise, the agency can sink ships in the ocean, either as part of military testing or to create artificial reefs for fish and scuba divers.