What happens when military ships are past their prime? The retired ships aren’t always put on display for land lovers to tour or completely scrapped for metal. Some are put to bed forever in a watery grave, but there their job is not done. At least one company is sinking ships — and other items — to become infrastructure for reefs and marine life.
Photographer Stephen Mallon was able to document what Wired describes as the “euthanization” of the USS Arthur W. Radford. His exhibit of the “reefing” of the ship off the coast of New Jersey in August 2011 recently went on display in Williamsburg, New York.
Wired has more on Mallon’s project photographing the ship’s “funeral”:
[Mallon] went along for the ride with the contractors, American Marine Group, to document the ship’s final voyage. For Mallon, who never outgrew his childhood fascination with big trucks, airplanes and demolition equipment, it was a dream come true.
“I still get chills from the smell of airplane fuel,” says Mallon, who is probably most famous for his behind-the-scenes photos of US Airways Flight 1549 being hauled from the icy Hudson river after it made an emergency landing.
Mallon takes us into the ship’s guts as it is cleaned and prepped and we come across relics of time past like graffiti scrawled on the walls by sailors who were on one or more of the ship’s 10 world-wide deployments. There is a stark loneliness to the picture of the Radford being pulled out to its grave by a lone tugboat, calling up images in some ways of a mini funeral procession.
Wired notes that the process of retiring the ship — stripped and cleaned — to the bottom of the ocean is monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard. Check out video of the scrapping and sinking by American Marine group here.
The USS Radford saw action from 1977 until 2003. According to The Front Room gallery’s press release, the 563-foot Navy Spruance destroyer was involved in the Persian Gulf War as well as Operation Enduring Freedom. While the ship once held more than 340 sailors, The Front Room states it has now “become an underwater eco system to house algae, fish, anglers, and other under water life alike. Creating an underwater community not only for fish, but for divers as well.”
Mallon’s exhibit will be on display in the Williamsburg gallery until June 17.
Mallon’s “The Reefing of the USS Radford” is part of his larger, over-arching project — “American Reclamation” — about recycling and reuse in the United States. Works Artists, a firm representing Mallon, hosts one of his first volumes for the project where he documented the transformation of New York subway cars into artificial reef infrastructure.
The Blaze asked Mallon in an interview whether he imagined when he started a project about reclamation if he’d be watching ships or subway cars being purposely sunk in the ocean. He said that his idea all started with looking for unique ways that items were being repurposed but he “did not completely realize it would be so cool.”
Here are a few of those images from the project called “Next Stop Atlantic:”
After this the subway sinking, Mallon said in an interview with the Blaze he was asked by American Marine Group if he would like to document the sinking of a Navy destroyer, to which he responded “absolutely.”
As for where “American Reclamation” will go next, Mallon says he has ideas for a couple more volumes before the project could ultimately be turned into a book. When asked if he would consider going down to visit the structures he had once watched sink, Mallon said it is already part of his 10-year plan.
“I may have little delusions of grandeur that involves multiple divers coming down with me to light up the inside of the subway cars,” Mallon said to the Blaze. He also mentioned an artist who exclusively sculpts underwater creations that he would love to get a grant for to commission a “subway platform for the fish.”