Two never-finished Navy ships head to scrap heap

They are the two ships no one wanted, almost constantly embroiled in one dispute or another for the past 25 years. The two Navy behemoths have never gone on a mission, were never even completed, yet they cost taxpayers at least $300 million.

Now the vessels, the Benjamin Isherwood and the Henry Eckford, are destined to leave Virginia waters for good and be scrapped at a Texas salvage yard, with no money coming back to the U.S. Treasury.

The Isherwood, stretching more than 660 feet, began its final journey this week, unceremoniously towed Tuesday from its mooring spot in the James River Reserve Fleet, also known as the "ghost fleet," near Fort Eus-tis in Newport News.

Its destination: International Shipbreaking Limited in Brownsville, Texas, just above the Mexico border. There, the vessel will be cut up, its innards removed and disposed of, and its steel and other metals sold as recycled products.

The Eckford, of equal size, is scheduled to follow next Tuesday, leaving behind fewer than 20 junk ships in the ghost fleet, the smallest number since its inception during World War I.

Once the two Navy oilers have departed, "it will close one of the saddest chapters in American shipbuilding and for that matter, federal fiduciary folly," wrote Joseph Keefe, a global maritime commentator, this week on the website MaritimeProfessional.com.

In seeing the two ships headed for a scrap heap, the U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees ghost fleets in Virginia, Texas and California, also will close one of its most contentious disposal contracts - one that spurred environmental protests on both sides of the Atlantic, caused lawsuits over American toxic dumping, and drew condemnation by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In 2003, the Maritime Administration announced a $17.8 million contract with Able UK, a shipyard in northeastern England, to dismantle 13 ghost ships from Virginia.

Able UK, which had never demolished a ship before and did not have permits to do so at the time, also was to receive the Isherwood and Eckford as perks to sweeten the deal.

Only four ghost ships arrived at the yard in Hartlepool, off the North Sea, the rest blocked by legal orders and political maneuvering. There they sat for nearly seven years before finally being recycled in late 2010, according to company and government officials.

Able UK won title rights to the Isherwood and Eckford after completing the work and took ownership in June, said Kim Riddle, a spokeswoman for the Maritime Administration, a branch of the U.S. Transportation Department.

The theory was that Able UK would finish construction of the two oilers - they were 95 percent and 84 percent complete at the time - and sell them for big dollars to a NATO ally or another friendly country.

But because the oilers were single-hulled ships, instead of the modern double-hulled standard, "we concluded that recycling was the best option," said Peter Stephenson, Able UK's executive chairman, in a statement released Thursday.

Neither Able UK nor International Shipbreaking would disclose the details of their scrapping contract, saying a confidentiality agreement had accompanied the deal. And since the contract did not involve the Maritime Administration, the agency declined to comment as well.

The government paid Able UK $10 million to scrap the four ghost ships from Virginia, said Riddle.

The Isherwood and Eckford were part of an 18-ship class known as the Henry J. Kaiser fleet of replenishment oilers, titans that carry oil for Navy vessels around the globe.

They were the only two that went unfinished, and were part of a 1985 budget request from the Navy for three oilers for a combined $567 million, according to records.

The two were built at the Pennsylvania Shipbuilding Co. in Philadelphia, which defaulted on its Navy contract in 1989. The ships were then sent to Florida to be finished. But disputes over costs and materials in Tampa led to the termination of that contract in 1993, according to records.

The Navy thought about turning the Isherwood and Eckford into ammunition ships, but that proved too expensive. In 1997, three years after the ships had been mothballed in the James River ghost fleet, the Navy cut its ownership ties.

Since then, the two star-crossed ships have sat idle in the middle of the James - until this week.

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340, scott.harper@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Defense - Shipyards Environment Military News

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Having reached the ripe old age of "Senior Discount" and reading news papers most of my life, I believe that this is the first time I have seen the word "innards" used in a news story. Yes, I realize that it is a perfectly good word. It's just not a word that most people feel comfortable using anymore. Most people think it makes them sound like some backwoods hick.
So I say "Well done Scott! Never let public opinion stop you from saying what is on your mind."


Innards was a good choice of words here.

The inside is strewn with every conceivable alloy metal known to modern man, all of it needing to be sorted and recycled.

Inards it is

Innards. A perfectly good word to go along with the waste that fills the content of this story.What a waste of OUR money!

How much.

Having worked on many Navy contracts, In the majority of these, The manufactuer has put into the contract, provisions to cover such actions as shut downs or stop work. And the difference is very small compared to the original cost. The contractor some times has the Gov't pay for the labor to replace the time it would have taken or the gov't has to pay for and any parts special tooling,equipent, or materials not used it has to be inventoried, disposed or destroyed, and or has to pay for storage until the materials are disposed of.
Therefore how much money did we save? The Navy and the contractor knows. V-P ask for the savings breakdown not just the overall savings.

I have to agree...

Having worked at Texas Instruments for a project manager who had no less than 3 cancelled projects that MADE MORE MONEY than had they completed. It was his claim to fame. The 3rd was mine and he boasted that "We made our money".

Trillions of dollars wasted

Trillions of dollars have been wasted on military adventures that have accomplished little. It's time to cut the military budget. We can't afford to police the world anymore.


Nothing! Look at the colosal waste called "Nuclear Missile Defense".


Again, back-up to your claim is needed. Oh, and by the way the current administration already did cut "certain parts" of the military budget. It got so bad at one point that sailors aboard deployed warships couldn't even get Mop & Glo because we had no money. How do I know that? I personal experienced it as have MANY other service members - just ask one, they'll tell you. We couldn't get the needed parts to fix planes/ships/tanks/etc and ended up cannibalizing off other equipment to get the mission done(which accomplished little according to you). It sounds to me like you'd like to completely cut out the military, not just the military spending.

Oh no, no mop n glo

what's wrong with a brush and pail and your hands and knees?


I guess you think the military it just a brute force of slave labor. THAT kind of comment leads me to believe that you never served a day in your life. Im not allowed to post a "personal attack" or you would have gotten one!


I guess you think the military it just a brute force of slave labor. THAT kind of comment leads me to believe that you never served a day in your life. Im not allowed to post a "personal attack" or you would have gotten one!

How little you

know yet try to sound knowledgeable. How would such a comment lead you to that?

What's wrong?

Sounds like you've never had to mop a floor (or swab a deck) in your life. Water doesn't work too well in cleaning hundreds of boot scuffs. But don't fear, I'm sure there are plenty of sailors out on the high seas right now on their hands and knees with a brush and pail thanks to people like you. Anyway the point is, if we can't even buy our soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen simple cleaning supplies we've got a much bigger problem. Evidently you completely looked over the part of my post where I said we also couldn't get parts to fix our aircraft and ships.


Weren't they the group that made the hit song "Sweet Home Alabama?"


Not even remotely funny.

They Should Have Been Scrapped Locally, but...

Having vessels moved from the JRRF to locales beyond the Tidewater for scrapping is wrong-headed thinking. Although the skilled workforce and capabilities exist locally to perform scrapping in an environmentally sensitive manner, current operations are anything but sensitive to the Elizabeth River. Neither do they have the eco-protections in-place like our local shipyards. Even Teeside had the capability to seal the scrapping off from neighboring waterways. Look to the backwaters of the River for sites where rotting vessels lie and where suspect entities cut away at the hulks for materials of worth. Va needs to step up and ensure local scrappers are properly regulated and the River is protected further. Keep the work local, but compliant.

Nothing new

If it isn't defaulted contracts, it is a case of where it is determined ships aren't needed, thus, even in the middle of construction, work is stopped and the ships are scrapped. This happened with hundreds of ships at the end of World War II, including aircraft carriers and battleships. It is only news today because these two hulks were a part of the James River Reserve fleet.

no money was wasted...

in that it went to both small and large businesses, therefore we should be satisfied with this venture's outcome. We must support our small business community folks, not welfare or social programs for individual citizens.


Don't forget to remove the bag of "innards" before you bake it. The popular local non-word I hear a lot is "irregardless" and folks just love to use it.


Irregardless is by no means a word only misused in Tidewater. Interestingly enough, Google Chrome has it as a word in its spell check (it didn't come up with a squiggly red line under it.)


I always wonder why people love to wordsmith each other as if they were trying to intellectually spar to see who is smarter. What a waste. There are lots of great people out there that have misused words or who are terrible spellers and like me, want to always spell a word phonically or the way that it sounds. I know... I took SP at ODU in the basement many years ago.

Now back to managing old ships...

Another reason why....

Just one more reason why military spending has to be cut severely. Our defense budget wastes an incredible amount of money. Democrats and Republicans talk about cutting medicare but the deficit could easily be evened out with Defense and Foreign Aid cuts. Close bases in Europe, pull out of the Middle East and defend our borders not the world's oil supply.

What's 300 Million? Who

What's 300 Million? Who cares if we tossed the money away? It's nothing. Who needs foresight and accountability? We are Americans!

This is happening right now, this minute somewhere in the US. They are tossing the money away. We left ammo dumps unguarded in Iraq and now pay to fight against the ammo and pay for it's damages.

We are that stupid. Most people brushed right past this story because it did not blame a particular party. Thye don't care.

$300 M lost

Look at this inefficiency in govt purchasing...healthcare will be run so much better I am sure.

Do you mean medicare and

Do you mean medicare and medicaid? Which are already gov't programs that offload the expense of seniors from private insurance companies?

Or do you mean "obamacare", which really has nothing to do with gov't supplied healthcare but people keep talking as if it does?

Please say that you meant this with sarcasm.

If you mean that "Obamacare" is not universal health care then you are correct. But, if you are trying to tell me that a 1900 page law that cost so much that new taxes have to collected for four years before performing most of its functions, creates over 150 new agencies and dictates how patients recieve and pay for their care, doesn't meet the definition of "government run" then you are seeking to deceive.


is bogus and unreliable; No facts, no truths, just Glenn Beck sounding garbage.

I can proudly say I have

I can proudly say I have never watched Glen Beck. Well, once while flipping through channels. The guy is a clown. But to return your volley, you cannot come up with a single line of information as written within this act without looking it up. Some of us due to our vocation are inundated with it. In fact, if it worked as promised, I could make a bunch of money. A lot of people will. But it is like many other bills in the fact it is poorly thought out. It simply doesn't work. But if you want proof, I'm game; tell what you want to know. The information on waivers is easy to find online. It's real and the nepotism seems apparent in the process.

As an overall government

As an overall government program there is not much difference between the three. Obamacare simply places the insurance companies under mandate that was formerly only forced upon doctors. The biggest problem is none are sustainable. Just because a document says it is possible in no way dictates the true outcome. The common retort is that once everyone is insured then the pool of funds will be larger but this is not the case. Many, many people have already received waivers and the criteria in receiving them has no logical function for the overall group. The bill was loaded with pork and insignificant special interest from the start in the name of "compromise." It simply will not work as presented.

Your right. Look at Romney

Your right. Look at Romney Care and how bad that turned out for the state.


While not responding to your overall post, I will say I DID read where a number of Companies (as opposed to "people" referenced in your post) that don't fall under the "15-employee" exception, for example, (or other currently-established qualifying exceptions) have applied for, and received exemptions from government requirements for employer-provided healthcare, and you might (or might not) be surprised to learn the names of these Large, well-known companies operating in a variety of American economic sectors.

I read an

interesting story the other day. The Air Force wants to reduce the number of B-1 bombers at a base in North Dakota. The Senator from ND objected to this as it would cost the local economy an estimated 135 million dollars. He insisted that the money be returned to the economy via another source.
These oilers were a product of the same mentality. The PA yard was in trouble before they started building these ships. The Navy had made the decision that they wanted to get rid of Phlly Navy Shipyard and were looking for a way to keep politicians happy, so they awarded the contract to this yard despite the fact the yard had never built an oiler, nor participated in a project of this scope. Everyone wants to cut, just not in their backyard!


As long as decisions are made by civilians, looking to stay in good grace with the politicians, things like this will continue to happen. As soon as the politicians (on both sides of the isle) get out of the way, real savings and logical purchasing will start to happen.

330 million

At least we sent the ships to be scrapped in the U.S. Almost all the steel(at least the good stuff) was sold to China at bargain basement prices.

What is sad is that the

What is sad is that the workforce in tx. that will do the labor is mostly illegals and about 80% of the paychecks go back to mexico instead of in this country.

Not only Texas

Two years ago I flew into Norfolk Airport on a flight carrying about 30 of these "illegal workers" headed for Norfolk to "demo" some ship (they told me). Aren't there some low security prisoners sitting in US Jails that could do this work?


now the rest of the fleet should be sent for scrap. I know what the ghost fleet is supposed to be, but I think it has no use and should be scrapped completely.


Glad to see that these and more ghost fleet ships are finding their homes. Luckily, there have been no major environmental impacts from this anchored bone yard, but actually, they are slowly taking away one of the best local fishing holes round these parts!

well, the government pays

well, the government pays about 2 or 3 times more for an electric scooter for (disabled people)than it has to so, this shouldn't surpirse us.


more than 60% of them don't really qualify! I see someone listens to Neil Boortz

handicapped scooters-reply

Lost Sailor,

It's not all the "Government," and you don't have to mainline some a.m. radio sabre-rattler to have read the following news story-The feds discovered that scooter co.'s were using dead Dr.'s federal I.D. #'s to provide authorization to patients who were "created" through identity theft, so that the government (us) was billed for scooters not prescribed and not delivered to people who didn't need them, hadn't gotten them, and didn't know scooters had been "ordered" in their names! So, in the new American tradition, nobody is even ill, and no medical device is being made, while the taxpayer gets the bill, and the medical mafia gets paid! In the U.S.A, we BILK 'em right, or we don't build 'em at all!

Hail to the Chief

To be fair...

The scooter companies intentionally overcharge the government 2 to 3 times what the scooters cost. Yes, the government is stupid for paying, but let's be honest: the healthcare industry is comprised of unscrupulous financial terrorists who bilk the taxpayers out of hundreds of billions, then turn around and complain to the government that their taxes are too high. And any thought of "reforming" the industry to get rid of waste like this is considered "socialist" or "anti-capitalist."

$300 million loss in a government contracting fiasco

I would hope the builders, or their successors in the case of bankruptcy, are no longer allowed to receive any kind of government contract. The government contractor/s responsible for this fiasco should have been thrown in jail or fired.

300 million-just a drop in the bucket

The race is on to bankrupt the country. Think not? We have 60b unaccounted for in Iraq. Countless billions in Afghanistan. We're spending more on "defense" that the next ten nations. And the pearl I like is Rumsfeld on September 10, 2001(what a coincidence) announces the Pentagon can't find 2.3 TRILLION bucks. That's with 12 zeros folks. And these clowns are talking about balancing the budget? Ain't gonna happen

These ships are the 'product'..

of Arlen Specter's meddling in the pork process, he succeeded in getting these 2 lemons in the budget even though there were serious questions about the ability of the shipbuilder to be able to construct them. Specter held up other legislative items until he got his way, and marvel at the result! And this kind of garbage STILL goes on all the time, in all aspects of the Federal govt, not just Defense! Anyone wonder why we have the financial mess we do?

Another Fine Example

Ladies and Gentleman, this is another fine example of how our best and brightest politicians and government bureaucrats are looking out for you.

Don't entirely blame the politicians

Blame the contractor who took the money and couldn't deliver what they had agreed to. This is what happens when the military contracts everything out to the lowest bidder and it happens all of the time (there's a REASON they're the LOWEST bidder). We lost over half a billion on this project, and if anyone suggested cutting the defense budget by the same amount, we'd blame the Democrats for gutting our military. Apparently we'd rather give away money and get nothing to show for it than cut ANY percentage from our defense budget and be more careful with whom we contract business to.

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