It was the second “supercarrier” in its class when it was built in the 1950s, and will be the second in its class to fall to the scrapper’s torch nearly four decades later.
The former USS Saratoga, currently berthed at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, is scheduled to depart under tow on Aug. 20 and arrive at ESCO Marine Inc.’s ship-recycling facility between Sept. 6-10, assuming the weather cooperates, Arnie Tyler, ESCO’s vice president of security and defense programs, said. The Naval Sea Systems Command announced in May that the Navy had signed a procurement contract with ESCO to tow and dismantle the ship. The Navy is paying the company 1 cent, the lowest price possible, and will continue to own the ship during the dismantling operation.
The Saratoga’s keel was laid in December 1952 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The ship was launched in October 1955, commissioned in April 1956 and served nearly 38 years before its decommissioning in September 1994. It was the second of four Forrestal-class supercarriers to be built. The USS Forrestal itself, decommissioned in 1993, arrived here in February and is being dismantled by All Star Metals LLC. A third carrier, the Kitty Hawk-class former USS Constellation, decommissioned in 2003, is en route here from Bremerton, Washington, and will be scrapped by International Shipbreaking Ltd.
Tyler said ESCO had received phone calls from veterans who served with the Saratoga, many of them inquiring about the possibility of setting foot aboard one last time. But ESCO’s contract with the Navy doesn’t allow it, he said.
“We’re not able to put people on there, but there are good reasons for that too,” Tyler said. “There are some areas of the ship that are rusted, particularly under the weather decks. You’ve really got to be careful you don’t step on an area that’s rusted through or nearly rusted through.”
Plans to turn the ship into a museum were dropped in 2010, and fund-raising efforts redirected toward the decommissioned carrier USS John F. Kennedy. The last chance to see the vessel was Aug. 8 at Naval Station Newport during a pier-side farewell ceremony that more than 100 Saratoga veterans attended.
ESCO is working with the port, however, on a plan to allow veterans to view the vessel from a distance at some point after it’s docked. Tyler said the company plans to post Saratoga-related updates on its website, www.escomarine.com.
Interested persons will also be able to keep track of the carrier’s progress from Newport on the live ship map at www.marinetraffic.com. Towing the Saratoga will be the tugboat “Signet War Horse III.”
Tyler said he expects quite a few Texas residents who served on the Saratoga to make the journey here to see the carrier.
While it’s sad to see once mighty ships on which so many have served relegated to the scrap pile, dismantling them employs people and puts high-quality steel back into the market, he said. Tyler noted that The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium could be built with the 60,000 tons of steel the Saratoga contains.
“There’s a whole logistical train that goes along with pulling these vessels apart,” he said. “It puts people to work.” Tyler said the job should take 18 to 24 months to complete and that ESCO will hire, and train if necessary, 60 or 70 extra employees. As such, the Saratoga provides a potential connection even to veterans who didn’t serve on her. “I’m looking for veterans in particular, folks who have a clearance,” Tyler said. “If they’ve got a U.S. government clearance, I’m interested in talking to them. You hear a lot about veterans out there that need work. I’ve got an opportunity to put them to work.”