Monday, June 09, 2008
One of the last Liberty ships from World War II, anchored for years in the James River "Ghost Fleet," is likely headed for a new home: Greece. Its federal caretaker, the U.S. Maritime Administration, announced an agreement this week with the Greek government that would move the 7,000-ton relic, the Arthur M. Huddell, to a port near Athens where it would become a museum piece. "It is great to be able to save a bit of history from both our nations," said Sean T. Connaughton, who heads the maritime administration, at a ceremony Wednesday in Piraeus, Greece. The Greeks bought or were given many Liberty ships after World War II to build up their merchant marine fleet, which was decimated by the fighting. U.S. troops often were carried to Europe during World War II in Liberty ships. There, they fought alongside Greek forces against the Italians and Nazis, who occupied Greece. Under the proposed deal, the Huddell would likely be donated to Greece and become a floating centerpiece at a museum in Piraeus celebrating Greek shipping and history, said Susan Clark, a maritime administration spokeswoman in Washington. Clark said several details still must be ironed out, including a purging of toxic materials on board the Huddell, including lead, mercury and waste fuel. A 2002 inventory of Ghost Fleet ships listed the Huddell as holding 80.6 long tons of oil. Its hull scored a "3," or about average, on a scale measuring the potential for leaks. "We're committing ourselves to moving forward with the deal," Clark said.
SS Arthur M Huddell.American shipyards built 2,751 Liberty ships during World War II, the largest such effort in history. The vessels carried troops and supplies around the globe. The Huddell, named after the former President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, was converted into a pipelayer in 1944 and set fuel lines across the English Channel in the wake of the D-Day landings in France. It was stored in Suisan Bay near San Francisco in 1946 but was later used to lay cable for AT&T in the 1950s and '60s. The Huddell was retired in 1984 and has been sitting in the Ghost Fleet, off Fort Eustis in Newport News, since then. If the dinosaur goes on display in Greece, it would join two other Liberty ships as museum pieces. The John W. Brown is in Baltimore, the Jeremiah O'Brien in San Francisco. Most of the other Liberty ships have been scrapped or sunk or converted to fishing reefs. The Huddell is the last one in the James River fleet and the last one managed by the maritime administration. The U.S. government first announced its intention to donate the Huddell to Greece in 2006. But the transfer bogged down in red tape and environmental concerns, though most of those issues now seem to be dissipating. A Rhode Island state senator of Greek descent, Leonidas Raptakis, has been active in pushing the deal for years.