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USS Oriskany To Be Sunk Off Florida's Panhandle

The aircraft carrier will be sunk in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles off Pensacola, Florida and become an artificial reef. It is the first time a ship this size has been sunk deliberately to become a reef. The ship is in Corpus Christi, Texas, undergoing preparations. It could be towed to its final resting place and sunk in three to four months. Preparations include stripping it of contaminants.

The Oriskany was one of the Navy's most heavily used aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. Dozens of Oriskany pilots, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were shot down and held as prisoners of war. Pensacola's rich history in Naval aviation played a major role in the decision to sink the ship off its coast line. Pensacola is known as the Cradle of Naval Aviation and home of the Naval Aviation Museum.

The decommissioned aircraft carrier will be sunk about 25 miles southeast of Pensacola. Once on the bottom, the ship will become a habitat for marine life. The state of Florida has a sinking permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and has an active reef-monitoring program. Scuba divers and fishermen are expected to flock to the site.

The ship will be a fantastic fishing and diving venue. "A reef of this size will attract a quantity and diversity of marine life out there that we wouldn't see in any other artificial reef in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This will truly be a world-class artificial reef," said Escambia County Marine Resources Chief, Robert Turpin.

The sinking of the Oriskany is the first in a new Navy program to dispose of surplus vessels by turning them into artificial reefs. The Navy has committed $2.8 million to the project. Of that, $2.1 million has been dedicated to cleaning and preparing the ship for scuttling. That process is under way in Corpus Christi, Texas. Escambia County officials have pledged $1 million, including a $50,000 contribution from neighboring Okaloosa County, for any added cleaning costs to meet state regulations and to make the ship safe for divers.