The US Navy is resuming its practice of using old warships for target practice and sinking them in US coastal waters after a nearly two-year moratorium spurred by environmental and cost concerns. Later this month, three inactive vessels—Kilauea, Niagara Falls, and Concord—will be sent to a watery grave off Hawaii as Sinkex, short for sinking exercise, resumes. "We are appealing to the Navy to continue their moratorium at least until our case is heard," says an activist for one of two groups who have sued. "After the vessels hit the sea-bottom, it will be a little too late."
Conservation groups argue the ghost ships should instead be recycled at a ship-breaking facility, but the Navy says Sinkex offers valuable live-fire training for times of war. For decades, the Navy destroyed the vessels with little or no oversight. Then in 1999, the EPA ordered it to better document toxic waste left on the doomed ships. "There are severe restrictions on any hulk of that nature," says a vice admiral, who notes each ship will be stripped of PCBs and asbestos. Records show the Navy sunk 109 rusty US warships off the coasts of California, Hawaii, Florida, and other states over the last 12 years; it recycled 64. (Read more Navy stories.)