The decommissioned USS Independence, the last of the Forrestal-class of aircraft carriers that plied the seas from the 1950s to the 1990s, will begin its final voyage to Brownsville later this year.
International Shipbreaking Ltd., part of the EMR Group, won a U.S. Navy bid to tow the mothballed 61,000-ton “supercarrier” from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., to the Port of Brownsville for dismantling.
Robert Berry, the company’s vice president, said the vessel will require two months of preparation for the 4 1/2-month tow from Bremerton around the tip of South America to Brownsville.
Preparations include the installation of towing gear and an alarm system that alerts the tug captain if the ship takes on water, plus a thorough inspection of the ship to make sure it’s safe for towing, though “the Navy keeps its vessels in pretty good condition,” Berry said.
“This is actually a good time of year to be towing … because we’ll be at the tip of South America in mid-summer;” he said. “It’s better weather.”
The USS Independence, the last Forrestal-class carrier to be built, was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on June 6, 1958, commissioned on Jan. 10, 1959, and decommissioned on Sept. 30, 1998. It was the fifth Navy ship to bear the name “Independence.”
The vessel should arrive in Brownsville in late February or early to mid-March, Berry said. This will be International Shipbreaking’s third supercarrier: The company took delivery of the former USS Constellation, a Kitty Hawk-class carrier, in January 2015 and the former USS Ranger, a Forrestal-class carrier, in July 2015.
The decommissioned USS Forrestal itself was the first supercarrier to come to Brownsville for recycling. It and the Forrestal-class former USS Saratoga arrived at the port in 2014. Berry said the Constellation will be completely dismantled by the time the Independence arrives.
“Then we will have room,” he said. “We have room for two carriers in the yard.”
When scrap metal prices are high the Navy pays a nominal sum — such as one cent — to have a decommissioned ship towed and dismantled. When metal prices are low, like now, the cost goes up due to the substantial expenses incurred by the ship recycler.
The Navy agreed to pay International Shipbreaking around $6 million to tow and dismantle the Independence, Berry said.
While the Navy has placed former carriers USS Kitty Hawk, decommissioned in 2009, and USS John F. Kennedy, decommissioned in 2007, on “donation hold” for use as museums or memorials, the Navy has issued a Request for Proposals for the USS Enterprise. Berry said his company hopes to land that contract as well.
“It’s the first nuclear carrier — quite historic,” he said. “They’re defueling it as we speak.”
Berry said that when the firm lands a major Navy contract he gets dozens of calls from veterans who served aboard the particular vessel and hope to purchase mementos. It turns out that International Shipbreaking does sells pieces of the big ships on eBay. Interested parties can get information from www.internationalshipbreaking.com.
“When these (news) articles come out my phone will go bonkers,” Berry said.