BENICIA -- Aged and crumbling ships may be leaving the Suisun Bay "mothball" Reserve Fleet at a steady pace, but some of their value is being left behind.
Vallejo's California Maritime Academy, one of six state maritime schools nationwide, soon will see a nearly $400,000 funding influx, proceeds from the sale of the obsolete vessels. The new funding, $2.2 million overall, is due to a federal mandate requiring federal reinvestment into maritime schools.
"This money will help us continue to train the next generation of merchant mariners," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said at a news conference Friday morning at Suisun Bay's National Defense Reserve Fleet. "As you know, the maritime industry is critical to our nation's economy and security. ... Our maritime investments represent the future of American transportation."
LaHood, who Thursday toured the Cal Maritime campus and met with its new top administrator, on Friday described shipping as the "green ticket to a more environmentally friendly infrastructure" as the country's population continues to swell.
Just a bit up the strait from the fleet, Mare Island's Allied Defense Recycling shipyard has worked since 2010 to eke out a corner of the ship-recycling trade in a primarily Texas-dominated business. However, once scrap metal prices began to climb, the government turned from paying recyclers to take the ships off their hands to selling the vessels for millions of dollars.
The shift largely shut Allied Defense Recycling out of the game, beyond dry dock cleaning the vessels before their final voyages to Texas. Recently announced upcoming contracts for three added ship cleanings will go to competitor shipyard San Francisco Ship Repair BAE Systems, with the vessels themselves sold to Texas recycler Esco Marine.
Steel scrap metal prices "have been fairly high as of late, so that's very helpful to us," Matsuda said. "It's fantastic when we do well in the market and are actually able to turn profit, or at least get money back that we can further invest."
Regardless of which of eight qualified companies nationwide is securing the contracts, the Maritime Administration, and indirectly, Cal Maritime, are benefiting, not to mention Bay Area environmentalists concerned with potential pollution from the aged vessels.
In fact, Maritime Administrator David Matsuda, joined by Congressmen George Miller, D-Martinez, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, announced that the federal agency was two years ahead of a schedule imposed in a 2010 lawsuit settlement between the agency, and environmental advocates and the San Francisco Bay Area Water Quality Control Board. The agreement requires that the fleet's stockpile of 57 obsolete vessels be removed for recycling by 2017, with ships trickling out of the fleet continuously for the past three years. Gone already are 36 vessels, Matsuda said.
"There's a limit to how quickly we can move these ships out, so we have to take better care of the ones when they're already here," Matsuda said, noting the more than 300 tons of loose exfoliating paint that have been swept from the ships since 2009.
Suisun Bay is one of three National Defense Reserve Fleets, including one in Texas and the other in Virginia.
"Suisun Bay will be a shining example of the progress we can make when we work together," LaHood said.
Upcoming Suisun Bay fleet ship departures for recycling by Texas-based Esco Marine include the SS Cimarron on Oct. 31, the SS Wabash on Nov. 13, and the SS Roanoke on Nov. 20. The vessels were sold to the recycler for about $992,000, $2 million and $1.9 million, respectively.