International Shipbreaking Ltd. just finished dismantling one aircraft carrier at the Port of Brownsville and is about to take delivery of another one.
The company, part of the EMR Group, lifted the last piece of the former USS Constellation — a roughly 12,000-pound propeller shaft strut — out of the water on May 10, two years and a few months after the steel behemoth arrived at Brownsville for scrapping, according to International Shipbreaking Vice President Robert Berry.
The decommissioned USS Independence, which left Bremerton, Wash., March 11 under tow for the 16,000-mile trip around the tip of South America to Brownsville, is expected to arrive May 31 or June 1, he said.
Berry said he’s trying to get a firmer estimated-time-of-arrival, since the company is planning a ceremony at Isla Blanca Park for veterans who served on the carrier, which was commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1998.
The company is holding the ceremony in response to feedback from numerous veterans of other carriers that have come to Brownsville, who felt a tribute of some sort should take place. The Independence will be the fifth Navy “supercarrier” to arrive at the port for scrapping.
Berry said taking apart such a large vessel is a monumental undertaking, while the ships themselves can mean a great deal to the people who were stationed on them. Tens of thousands of people will have served on a carrier by the time it’s decommissioned, and according to veterans groups as many as 85 percent of those stationed aboard vessels that were retired in the last 20 years are still living, he said.
“When it’s a fighting ship there’s always a lot of memories and a lot of reflection over the life of that ship and all the people that served on it,” Berry said.
The company also fields inquiries from many veterans and their families seeking mementos — the plastic plaques above ships’ doorways are much in demand, for example, he said. The company has an eBay store with such items from recycled vessels, Berry said.
“We move a lot of stuff,” he said. “It’s not what we do for a living, but it’s part of what we do because we think it’s the right thing to do.”