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The eerie ghost fleet at Suisun Bay: U.S. Navy vessels that has been in the bay since WW2

Jack Beckett

This collection of U.S. Navy and merchant reserve vessels, known as the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet (SBRF) and the Mothball Fleet, was created by the U.S. Maritime Administration following World War II to serve as a pool of potential backups for national defense.

It is located on the northwest side of Suisun Bay (the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay estuary). The fleet is within a regulated navigation area that is about 4 1/2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide.

USGS aerial photo montage of “nests“ of anchored USNR ships at the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California. By USGS/Wikipedia/Public Domain

USGS aerial photo montage of “nests“ of anchored USNR ships at the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California. 

 

Closeup of ships of the US National Defense Reserve Fleet laid-up in Suisun Bay, By USGS/Wikipedia/Public Domain

Closeup of ships of the US National Defense Reserve Fleet laid-up in Suisun Bay, 

Aerial photograph of ships in Suisun Bay. By jitze/CC BY 2.0

Aerial photograph of ships in Suisun Bay. By jitze/CC BY 2.0

Approximately 1,000 ships have called Suisun Bay home since 1946. At its peak in 1950, the program had more than 2,000 ships in lay-up.

Once most of the ships entered the Reserve Fleet, they never left. By NOAA's National Ocean Service/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Once most of the ships entered the Reserve Fleet, but they never left. By NOAA’s National Ocean Service/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Image of part of the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, SS Cape Aide markings visible. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

Image of part of the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, SS Cape Aide markings visible. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

S.S. Green Mountain State as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

S.S. Green Mountain State as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

Many of these ships were removed for sale as scrap metal during the 1990s, but over 80 ships still remained at anchor in the bay, including the WWII battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) which once served as the transport vessel for President Roosevelt, and fought in the Pacific during both WWII and the Korean War.

In March 2013, only 28 ships remained and by 2016, only 12 ships still call Suisun Bay home.

USS Iowa (BB-61). By Check-Six/CC BY-SA 3.0

USS Iowa (BB-61). By Check-Six/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

SS Cape Corda, SS Cape Brenton, and others as they appear today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

SS Cape Corda, SS Cape Brenton, and others as they appear today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

SS Cape Breton as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

SS Cape Breton as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

A program is in place to tow the rustiest ones away for recycling. By Ingrid Taylar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

A program is in place to tow the rustiest ones away for recycling. By Ingrid Taylar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Now greatly reduced in number, soon there will be fewer still. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

Now greatly reduced in number, soon there will be fewer still. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

Throughout the years, these ships have caused a stir with environmentalists. The State of California and several environmental groups have raised concerns about the environmental impacts of the fleet.

Potential environmental concerns include heavy metals and antifouling agents in the paint that is peeling off of the vessels, as well as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and other hazardous materials that may have been released.

The SS Cape Agent. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

The SS Cape Agent. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

USS Vancouver (LPD-2) as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

USS Vancouver (LPD-2) as she appears today. By Earthpig/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

All the obsolete ships currently located at the site will be cleaned of flaking paint within 2 years. By Jack Snell/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

All the obsolete ships currently located at the site will be cleaned of flaking paint within 2 years. By Jack Snell/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The fleet is under surveillance and trespassing is strictly prohibited. In January 2016, the Department of Transportation and MARAD have officially announced the fleet closure in February 2017. All remaining ships currently located at the site will be sold at auction or scrapped.