Texas Clipper to Become Artificial Reef

Texas Clipper, Texas Parks and Wildlife Photo
The original Texas Clipper -- the ship that trained thousands of future sea-farers at the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston -- has reached the end of the line, but she's not going to the scrap heap. They're going to sink her in the Gulf of Mexico where she'll become an artificial reef and a new diving site for amateur divers. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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After months of patching leaks at the Beaumont shipyard, the World War Two era Texas Clipper I is almost ready to be towed out into the Gulf of Mexico and scuttled. Somehow, becoming an artificial reef for all eternity is a fitting fate for a ship that served its country in war and peace under several names, and which, for almost 30 years, was a floating classroom for the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston. Academy spokesman Bill Hearn says a lot of Merchant Marine officers learned their trade on this old ship.

"These students are actually preparing to receive their licenses as Merchant Marine officers. They go to sea for at least 60 days a summer, sometimes a little longer, and on board the ship they actually do everything."

Hearn says first year students do the dirty menial work on the ship, but they work their way up.

"By the time they make their third cruise, they're functioning as Third Assistant Engineers and Third Mates, so they actually handle the navigation, all the chart work for the ship, everything in the engine systems that make the ship work. They're under the supervision of licensed officers, but the students are actually functioning."

Texas Clipper I was the Maritime Academy's first training vessel. The current training ship is the Texas Clipper III. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has acquired the first Clipper for its "Ships to Reefs" program, and it's now in the process of making it happen. Coordinator Dale Shively says it's been towed to Brownsville, where a contractor is at work removing asbestos, residual oils and chemicals.

"The main problem that we're gonna be dealing with is PCBs. The main focus is gonna be removing those items to a level that meets EPA standards."

That'll take about six months. When that's done sometime next April, it'll be towed to a spot 17 miles east of Port Isabel and scuttled, and Shively says they won't do it with explosives.

"They will design it so that there will be controlled flooding. They will anchor the ship so it's stable, and then they will flood certain compartments simultaneously so that it will sink down in an upright position."

Built to be a troop transport near the end of World War Two, the Texas Clipper I carried wounded troops from Iwo Jima and took some of the first American troops into Japan for the occupation when the war ended. Then she was a civilian cruise liner for almost 20 years, until Texas A&M bought her when the Maritime Academy opened in 1964. She retired to the mothball fleet in 1994, and now she's coming out of retirement one last time for a new assignment as an artificial reef and a place for amateur divers to explore. Those who remember her and walked her decks say they're pleased to know she won't be cut up for scrap. In the most ancient of all seafaring traditions, she'll be buried at sea. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.