It’s good to see that, after back to back hurricanes have dumped more water on Virginia than during almost any season in memory, the Bush Administration has decided to prevent ten environmental disasters waiting to happen by scrapping ten of the “Ghost Fleet” ships in the James River. In an article about the disposal contracts for the last four ships, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote four paragraphs that had a chilling edge for this former Hampton Roads resident:

… the National Defense Reserve Fleet, which holds ships designated as being useful for defense. When the ships deteriorate, they are made available for disposal.

There are 60 such “non-retention” vessels in the Ghost Fleet.

The ships contain oil, asbestos, lead and other toxic chemicals and have been an environmental concern in Virginia for years.

A report prepared for the Maritime Administration in 2001 offered a worst-case scenario in which two ships from the Ghost Fleet break apart in a storm, spilling oil and polluting a 50-mile stretch of shoreline that includes historic Jamestown Island and various nature sanctuaries.

Having grown up seeing the Ghost Fleet anchored just a mile away from my friends’ houses and motoring or rowing past the old ships, hearing adults talk about the ships being ready to be called back into service, and looking up at the rusting hulks and wondering, it’s interesting to get the truth.