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American Ship Breaking | it all comes apart at the bottom of america

March 31, 2010

The Center for Land Use Interpretation aka CLUI is Dedicated to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived. In their latest newsletter, The Lay of the land there is an interesting article about American ship breaking, remarking that even massive truncated hulks of scrapped ships beached on muddy Asian shores are among the most striking images of the contrasts of globalism, there are still are a few companies in the business in the United States.

The new landscapes configurated by these huge and often kind of floating cities deserves our attention. As they point: “With hundreds of such ships floating around the country, and around the globe, the domestic ship breaking industry is likely to continue.”

As part of the history of this old industry, we can read:

“These reserve fleets started after WWII, the biggest ship-building boom in history. In 1950, there were over 2,000 surplus federal ships, tied together in slack water clusters around the nation. Over the years, they were redeployed, converted to commercial use, scrapped, or sunk offshore. Today, MARAD has less than 200 ships in their “mothball fleets,” still mostly WWII era cargo ships, cruisers, destroyers, and even aircraft carriers.”

With WW II as part of our history and now living in an era with increasing environmental worries, facts now includes decisions as the need to minimize the corrosion due to brackish from salt water. Acting according to these facts, some of the ships were reefed – adopted by states to sink offshore, a practice that stimulates reef formation, and provides destinations for scuba divers. Others have been sunk at sea in live-fire military training exercises. Most of the 70 ships that have been scrapped from the fleet in the past ten years were taken apart at one of three ship breaking yards in the USA, two of which are in the mid-Atlantic.

The current state of the business has been described with these words:

“Currently four companies are in the ship breaking business here, though Bay Bridge, from Virginia, is hoping to enter into the market here too. The largest of the companies is ESCO marine, which has dismantled more than 500 ships at this location. ESCO has three slots, which are long coves dug diagonally into the side of the channel, where the ships are grounded, that allow access to the ship for dismantling. The ships are not drydocked, for disassembly, they are beached inside the slot, sometimes two at a time. Often, as one shrinks as pieces are removed, another one comes in behind it, when there is room. The mouth of the slots are roped off with a booms to keep materials from escaping.”

Now we can speculate of some new projects that can be placed in this fantastic landscape. It has recently been decided that the ships will now be cleaned up in local dry docks to remove them of invasive species before heading out to sea. So, why not to think about re-using them to make new “water-scrapers” as variations of the skyscraper in the form of the antithetical subscrapers, groundscrapers and even depth scraper, just like in Calihan + Johnson project.

If the The Seasteading Institute [founded by Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman on April 15, 2008], is an organization formed to facilitate the establishment of autonomous, mobile communities on seaborne platforms operating in international waters, why not use this existing infrastructure for the same means?

Above: András Gyõrfi’s “The Swimming City”

Above: Ship on its last legs at ESCO. The largest ships can take as much as six months to take apart. [CLUI photo]


First read about it at mammoth. Recommended readings: The complete CLUI’s article American Shipbreaking. About The Seasteading Institute, here and flating cities in general, here.

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  1. Waste « things magazine

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