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Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg arrived to Key West on Wednesday to become artificial reef

After a 1,100-mile voyage and more than ten years of planning and acquiring funding resources, the ex-military ship Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg finally arrived in Key West this Wednesday.

USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T AGM 10) Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg arrived to Key West on Wednesday to become artificial reef

The ship is scheduled to be sunk sometime between May 20 and June 1 and will eventually form the second largest artificial reef in the world. The ship will rest some six miles south of Key West in 140 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

We’re all pretty excited here in Key West and particularly in view of the fact this is going to be the second largest artificial reef in the world,” said Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge, who is serving as a project liaison between the city and various state and federal agencies.

One of the big products that we make here is happy vacations,” said Joe Weatherby who conceived the project some 13 years ago. “And we feel that this artificial reef is the world’s best product ever produced for scuba diving. People are going to come from all over the world to dive this, but this product also has been designed so we can offer it to glass bottom boat riders, snorkelers or new divers as well as advanced divers, it holds interest for all of them.”

The Vandenberg is now undergoing final preparations before the scuttling and is for instance fitted with several hundred big holes along its decks and sides to prevent it from falling over as it sinks. The ship has already been ridded from potentially dangerous materials by two Norfolk, Va., shipyards who removed 71 cubic yards of asbestos, 193 tons of materials that contained potentially carcinogenic substances, 46 tons of refuse, 300 pounds of mercury-containing materials and 185 55-gallon drums of paint chips. The cleaning required 75,000 man-hours and used up 70 percent of the projects $8.6 million US dollars.

The artificial reef is becoming a reality thanks to the cooperation of a lot of different people and entities. It is funded by Monroe County, the Florida Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; City of Key West, U.S. Maritime Administration, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys & Key West tourism council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as by industry and private donations. Banks that provided loans include First State Bank of the Florida Keys, BB&T and Orion.

As of now, you can find the Vandenberg docked behind the USS Mohawk at the East Quay Wall in Truman Annex Harbor. The USS Mohawk is a historic Coast Guard ship open as a floating museum.

History of the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg

This ship has not always been known under the name Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg; it used to be a U.S. Army troop transport named the General Harry Taylor. In 1963 it got its new name, the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, as it began tracking the U.S. space program’s launches off Cape Canaveral. Vandenberg has also been used for monitoring U.S. defense missile test launches in the Pacific as well as eaves dropping on Russian missile launches during the Cold War. Its last active duty homeport was Port Canaveral in Florida, from 1976 to the ships formal retirement in 1983.

In 1983, the Vandenberg was moved to the James River Naval Reserve Fleet. Even though it had been formally retired, it was still kept in a state of readiness in case it would be needed again. Every six months, technicians would power up all its electronics and make any necessary repairs. It was kept like this for 10 years until it was formally struck from the naval register in 1993 and transferred to the Maritime Administration.

After this, the ship began a new life and did for instance serve as a Russian science ship in the 1999 movie “Virus,” where it played its part alongside Hollywood stars like William Baldwin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Donald Sutherland.

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