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After Ten Years, Project to Sink the Vandenberg off Florida Keys Begins; 'We are Just Thrilled'

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NORFOLK, Virginia -- The ex-USAFS Vandenberg was moved from a collection of retired government ships anchored in the James River near Newport News, Virginia Friday. The Vandenberg was decommissioned in 1986 and has rested at anchor with over 25 retired ships of the reserve fleet often referred as the "Ghost Fleet."

"After today's successful move of the ship, the City of Key West now holds the title to Vandenberg. This project is a great example of citizens working with government agencies to take a big step in creating a unique recreational diving and fishing site that will grow our economy while giving our natural reefs a break," said Bill Verge, City Commissioner Key West Florida.

"The people of Monroe County will reap the environmental and recreational benefits from sinking the Vandenberg as an artificial reef in their own backyards. So many people who have worked behind the scenes to make this project a success should take a bow. Personally as a scuba diver I have to admit that I am especially excited to see the landmark artificial reef blossom by the sinking of the Vandenberg," said Mario DiGennaro, Mayor of Monroe County.

Reefmakers LLC of Morsetown New Jersey is the lead contractor coordinating the safety and environmental cleanup of the ship necessary to prepare the Vandenberg as an artificial reef . Planning for today's 26-mile tow from the Ghost Fleet mooring to the shipyard began in 2003. The Vandenberg will be cleaned and prepared for deployment in Key West at Colonna's Shipyard, Inc. of Norfolk, VA. The vessel will be ready to move to Key West late this year and deployed at the reef site early next year.

"Today marks a major milestone in our mission to sink the Vandenberg as an artificial reef. The environmental and safety processes the Reefmakers team will use on this project will help create more artificial reefs from the retired ships which makes sound environmental and economic sense," Jeff Dey CEO Reefmakers LLC.

Bill Horn of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission helped plan and supervise the Vandenberg's move and provided regulatory guidance for today's move and the events that will lead up to the sinking of the ship as an artificial reef.

"The main objective of the Vandenberg project is take the pressure of the natural reefs and provide additional habitat for sea life and create recreational fishing and scuba diving opportunities," said Horn.

"Thanks to support from Mario DeGennaro Mayor of Monroe County and Bill Verge, City Commissioner Key West Florida, and a large number of dedicated people at ARK and Reefmakers, the long awaited operational phase of the Vandenberg artificial reef project has finally begun. We are all very excited," said Jeff Dey

Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers has been a principal in the organization of this project since its inception.

"I want to thank all of the people, not just in the Keys, but in the state and the country, too. It has been a big effort. We are just thrilled," said Joe Weatherby.

For more information on the Vandenberg dive in to

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Reader Comments

9 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

I had the pleasure to meeting Capt. Joe Weatherby as skipper of a Fury Catamaran Cruise five years ago in Key West. As we motored on a snorkeling trip, he described the Vandenburg artificial reef project and how much it would enhance the sport diving climate of Key West. Since that time I have been following the progress of the project online. As soon as the Vandenburg is at rest on the ocean floor off the coast of Key West, the three dive buddies that I completed dive certification training with are returning to the area to see for ourselves. We can't wait!
   comment# 1   - Keith Martin · Louisville, Kentucky · Jan 21, 2008 @ 1:55pm

I served as a crewman on the general vandenberg in 1969, it was an msts ship back then. we left oakland that july or august, went to hawaii, then later spent a couple of months off the kamchatka. it`s good to know the old girl we be serving a usefull purpose, much better than seeing her broken up and turned into razor blades.
   comment# 2   - hugh whiting · rockland, ma. · Feb 14, 2008 @ 7:15pm

My father, Robert Earl Finley, Sr., served as a computer analyst on the USS Vanderberg when I was a little girl (I will be 50 years old in June of this year). Unfortunately, my father passed away a year ago on 3/11/07 and did not live to see this wonderful usage of the very special ship that he called home for approximately two years. Although he will not be able to attend, I will be attending in his honor and am thrilled to see such an exciting and productive end to the USS Vanderberg. In addition, I cannot wait to hopefully meet others who may have known my father during the time he spent on the extremely sophisticated and highly technological ship. I also cannot wait to actually see the "ghost ship", that has been but a vision in my mind, for so many years in real life! I have pictures that were taken of my father when he was serving on the ship if you think they might be of use to you perhaps in an exhibit. Many, many thanks to all of the people who have worked so hard for all of these years to bring this matter to a successful conclusion!!!
   comment# 3   - Margaret (Peggy) R. Finley · Tampa, Florida · Mar 2, 2008 @ 10:02am

My good friend of more than 15 years Clifford R. Wolff, was a crew member abord the MSTS Vandenberg. He sailed as a Radar Engineer for about two years. At that time, during the "Cold War", the crews task was to track Russian Missile launches from Kamchatka. During this time he visited the Pacific Rim - more correctly, the Pacific Circumference - Panama, Hawaii, South Pacific Islands, Japan, tne Far North Pacific, Portland, and San Diego. On occasion, during the down times, he would hold "JUDO" Classes on the fan tail. Cliff also loved scuba diving and when possible he took advantage of the exotic locations in the Pacific. He is alive and well living in Islip, N.Y. (Lucky for me, good friends are hard to find). He celebrated his 79th birthday on July 1-2008. Cliff has a fair amount of movies & slides taken while on board, and it is my hpoe to convert them to VHS or CDs in the near future. Among the most memorable times of his life, you guessed it, his tour aboard the Vandenberg! If anyone knows of a site that lists crew members names and perhaps photos please post it! Clifford R. Wolff can be reached at dojocliff @
   comment# 4   - Dan Geraghty · Islip, Long Island, N.Y. · Jul 14, 2008 @ 12:23pm

   comment# 5   - alanda · rockland ma · Feb 24, 2009 @ 7:38am

My mom and Joe Grew up together. Thats 1 of my moms best friends, He is awesome i know him personally. I think he is in virgina right now and my mom is trying to see if he has sunk the vandenburg yet. My sister thinks he did. but my mom isnt sure.
   comment# 6   - Frankie · Orlando, Usa · Apr 18, 2009 @ 6:37pm

So excited for Joe! I was friends with him when I lived in KW amd he always excited and enthusiastic about the project, from it's inception. Even has stickers on my car and bike about the Vandenberg! Yipee!!!
   comment# 7   - heidi zwart vande poel · holland, mi · Apr 22, 2009 @ 2:29pm

My mother and I boarded the old General Taylor in Bremerhaven in mid-December 1950 as Hungarian DP's (Displaced Persons). Our destination was New York and ultimately St. Louis Missouri, where we built a new life in ths great country. The memories of that trip stayed with us all these years. If any one has a copy of the ships log covering that trip, please contact me. Thanks.
   comment# 8   - Leslie (Les) M. Nagyoszy, Sr. · Northfield Center Township, OHIO · May 26, 2009 @ 2:04pm

I just learned from my father that my parents and brother (father/Poland, mother/Germany) came to the United States in May 1952 on the old General Taylor. My husband and I recently spent a week in Key West and viewed the Vandenburg not knowing that this was the ship that brought my parents to this country. Pretty amazing!!!
   comment# 9   - Rosita Stumpf · Westerville, OH · Jun 6, 2009 @ 5:43pm
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