24 January 2012

S.S. Pacific Star headed to Brownsville for recycling:

U.S. National Archives
In this U.S. National Archives photo dated Aug. 9, 1942, the USS Crescent City is seen at left from the deck of the USS Chicago, a heavy cruiser. The ships are steaming away from Guadalcanal-Tulagi after landing invasion forces during the Pacific conflict of World War II. Guadalcanal Island is visible in the background. The ship was later renamed the S.S. Pacific Star. It is headed to Brownsville for recycling. 

The S.S. Pacific Star, formerly the U.S.S. Crescent City, is underway to the Port of Brownsville for a date with the scrapper’s torch. While it carries no cargo, the 72-year-old ship is heavily laden with history.

The last surviving American-built passenger/cargo ship, the Pacific Star departed under tow a little over a week ago from Mare Island, San Francisco Bay, en route for Brownsville ship recycler Esco Marine Inc., where it is expected within 30 days.

Originally christened the USS Del Orleans and launched in February 1940 at Sparrow Point, Md., the ship ran between New Orleans and Buenos Aires until being requisitioned by the U.S. government in June 1941. It was delivered to the Navy, which refitted the Del Orleans as an "attack transport" and renamed it the Crescent City — a nickname for New Orleans. As a troop transport, the ship took part in nearly every major campaign in the Western Pacific during World War II, including the invasions of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Peleliu and Leyte. In 1945 the Crescent City was converted into a temporary hospital ship, remaining at Okinawa until the end of the war.

Before its decommissioning in San Francisco in 1948, the ship was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battle stars for its war service. The Crescent City was transferred to the U.S. Maritime Commission and placed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay, Calif.

In 1971 the U.S. Maritime Administration (successor to the Maritime Commission) loaned the vessel to the California Maritime Academy, which converted it to a training vessel under a new name: T.S. Golden Bear. As a trainer, the ship sailed on 28 major ocean cruises more than 24 years before being decommissioned again — in 1995 — and returned to the reserve fleet. The city of Oakland, Calif., bought the vessel in 1999 and renamed it "Artship" as part of an art colony project that ultimately failed for lack of funding. The Pacific Star had been laid up at Mare Island since 2004.

In 2007 the ship was purchased by International Data Security Inc., which planned to completely renovate it for conversion into a data center. The plan failed. IDS, which renamed the ship "Pacific Star," filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 6. Esco bought the vessel at a U.S. Marshal’s auction the following day for $1. This is actually the second time Esco has owned the Pacific Star. The first time was in 2004, though the dismantler opted to sell the ship then rather than tow it to Brownsville for recycling.

Kris Wood, Esco’s vice president, said dismantling the 7,000-gross-ton ship should take about three months. First, asbestos and other hazardous substances have to be removed and dealt with according to environmental regulations, he said. Esco is a government contractor licensed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for such work.

"It’ll get turned into the structural steel that’s in your buildings and the cars that you drive and everything in between," Wood said.

With scrap prices relatively high, Esco and other contractors find themselves paying the government for vessels to salvage — albeit $1 in this case — rather than getting paid to tow them away. That could change when prices fall again. And while Esco is in the business of cutting up old vessels for money, people like Wood are able to appreciate the historical angle — such as the key role the Pacific Star played in the war effort so many decades ago.

"It has definitely had a very interesting life," he said. "It was born in the ‘40s and it has had a full life."

Source: The Brownsville Herald. By Steve Clark. 23 January 2012

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