KEY WEST, Florida -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and other law enforcement agencies will escort the decommissioned military ship “Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg” on its final voyage, Tuesday, May 26, weather permitting. The following day, the ship will slip beneath the surface and settle on the ocean floor in 140 feet of water 6 miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and will serve as an artificial reef.
The U.S. Coast Guard will establish a security zone around the 523-foot ship on the way to, and at, its final resting place. The FWC, Coast Guard, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Key West Police Department will enforce the zone surrounding the vessel from the time it leaves port until it's safely on the bottom.
The “Vandenberg” is behind the “USS Mohawk” at the East Quay Wall in Truman Annex Harbor. Once the ship leaves the dock, boaters must stay 500 yards away from the vessel. The trip from the dock to where the “Vandenberg” will sink will take one day. Once the ship goes down, the 500-yard security and safety zone will remain in effect throughout the night. At daybreak, as a safety precaution, authorities will require boaters to move one mile away from the “Vandenberg.”
“The FWC has been involved in the ‘Vandenberg’ reef project from the very beginning,” said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the FWC. “We will see it through to the very end, ensuring its safe escort to the place where it will become a reef habitat to a variety of marine species and a premier diving destination.”
On sink day, temporary air space restrictions will be in force above the “Vandenberg,” requiring aircraft to stay at least a mile from the ship. Aviators should consult the Temporary Flight Restriction for altitude requirements.
The FWC is anticipating hundreds of onlookers on the water and is encouraging boaters to be especially observant of each other, make sure they have all of the required safety equipment and to be aware of the weather forecast and sea conditions.
The Florida Keys is a haven of aquatic life, and the FWC said boaters should be careful of sea turtles, dolphins and other animals in the path of, or near their craft.
The “Vandenberg” Artificial Reef will not be open to the public until officials from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary complete the installation of mooring buoys and determine that the wreck is accessible for diving, snorkeling and sport fishing. The minimum timeframe for this will be 24 hours after sinking, but it could be longer. Opening announcements will be sent to media outlets and posted on www.fla-keys.com and www.bigshipwrecks.com. The FWC will provide security during this 24-hour period.
The “Vandenberg” served as a troop transport ship and defended the United States against missile attacks. It also took part in tracking blastoffs of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and early space shuttle launches.
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