The U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration
(MarAd) announced a program to provide financial assistance to states for preparation of obsolete ships as artificial reefs. While MarAd has long had a program in which states could request the transfer of obsolete vessels to be used as artificial reefs, the entire cost of preparing the ship had to be borne by the states.
Since many states depend on business groups and other organizations to raise funds to cover the preparation costs, the process could take years. Congress has now authorized MarAd to expend ship disposal funds to clean vessels for reefing projects.
"We are very pleased that Congress and the Administration have given MarAd the authorization to fund the cleaning of vessels prior to transfer to states," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. "Since preparing and cleaning a ship for artificial reefing can range from $500,000 to $1 million or more, having money to help fund preparation work provides a much-needed boost to this innovative program. Reefing now becomes a practical option, and we look forward to working with the states to make it happen."
During the past five years MarAd has transferred only one ship to a state for use as an artificial reef. In addition to the cost to the state of preparing a ship, MarAd realized that other factors also constrained the demand for ships. Those factors included the absence of national environmental guidelines for preparing ships and a lengthy application review and approval process involving multiple federal agencies. Ships that are used in this program will be cleaned before they are sunk for use as artificial reefs. MarAd has initiated a task force with the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Navy to develop "best practices" for cleaning vessels for this purpose. These guidelines will guide cleanup of ships for shoreline and barrier island protection projects as well. MarAd has also engaged the same federal agencies in developing a streamlined application process.
MarAd is encouraging states to review its list of ships available for reefing. "Artificial reefing is good for the environment and for the economy, and we are pleased to have a chance to encourage it in this practical way," said Maritime Administrator Capt. William G. Schubert.
Obsolete ships are frequently sunk as artificial reefs in many areas worldwide. There are more than 100 such reefs in Florida alone. They attract fish, and the abundance of fish attracts recreational fishers and divers. MarAd is the federal government's disposal agent for ships of 1,500 gross tons or more and currently has over 100 ships awaiting disposal. In FY03, Congress appropriated
$31 million for MarAd's use in ship disposal -- some of which can now be used for reefing. Since reefing is just one of the options being considered for the use of that appropriation, the amount available for financial assistance to states will be determined after applications are received and reviewed.