Cold War-era sub to be dismantled, parts to be on exhibit

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — A state naval museum in South Carolina has decided after years of debate to take apart a Cold War-era submarine and save some of its artifacts for an exhibit.

The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum board voted unanimously on Friday to dismantle the USS Clamagore, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

“Unfortunately, we cannot financially sustain the maintenance of three historic vessels,” Rorie Cartier, executive director at Patriots Point, said in a statement after the vote. “The USS Yorktown and USS Laffey also need repair, and we are fighting a never-ending battle against the corrosion that comes from being submerged in saltwater.”

The $2 million cost will come from the museum’s operating budget, officials said.

Submarines are generally named for fish, and clamagore is an old name for the blue parrotfish.

Friday’s resolution said the board had considered alternatives such as fixing the ship, sinking it to create a reef, and finding a new home for it.

“I think it’s a sad, sad day,” said Thomas Lufkin, chairman of the USS Clamagore Restoration and Maintenance Association, which sued in 2019 to keep the ship from being sunk.

A leak in the main ballast tank has closed the submarine to visitors since mid-December.

But extensive corrosion has been a problem for more than a decade, since the ship has been kept partly submerged. Another concern is that toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and more than 500 lead batteries on the sub were an environmental threat.

The Clamagore was stationed in Key West, Florida, during the Cold War, when it was known as the “Grey Ghost of the Florida Coast.” The Guppy-class sub was modified twice, the second time to become one of nine with the top upgrade for diesel-powered submarines. It was decommissioned in 1975 and has been docked at the Mount Pleasant military attraction since 1981.

The state Legislature approved $2.7 million in 2019 to sink the Clamagore as an artificial reef, overriding a veto to keep the money in the budget. But the museum said bids all came in above that. The General Assembly later approved using the money for other museum expenses because of financial strains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A consultant said in 2019 that repairing and restoring the ship would cost more than $9.3 million. Moving it to land without repairing it would cost $5.8 million, consultants said in 2010.

The museum said staffers are harvesting sonar equipment, torpedo hatches, the periscope and other artifacts, which Cartier has said number about 500.

Some of them will be used to create an exhibit about the Clamagore on the neighboring Yorktown aircraft carrier, Cartier said. The museum is also contacting other institutions that may be interested in artifacts from the sub.

Other pieces will be sold.

The museum will hire a company to dismantle the vessel, said spokesperson Mayci Rechner.

The sub won’t open to visitors again, she said, but a farewell ceremony will be held at Patriots Point before it’s removed.

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