SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – A World War II ship that served for decades as a training vessel for Texas A&M University sea cadets was sunk in open waters off the Texas coast Saturday, launching its new mission as an underwater habitat and diving destination.
The 473-foot, 7,000-ton Texas Clipper went under the rough wind-tossed waters about 17 miles offshore at about 12:35 p.m. and took about two hours to sink, said Bob Murphy, a Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife reef specialist.
The operation to turn the Texas Clipper into an artificial reef cost $4 million and has taken a decade.
"For those of us who have been working on it for ten years, the delays were frustrating but today was great," Murphy said. "It was good to see her out there on site, taking on water and going down."
The Clipper, pulled by a tugboat, left its dock in Brownsville and headed into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. The departure had been delayed a couple of days because of bad weather and high winds.
The Texas Clipper, the largest vessel in the care of the department to be sunk, is expected to become an attraction for divers and fishermen, and to provide an economic boost for the South Padre Island area.
The ship, which began life as the USS Queens, was commissioned as a Navy troop transport ship and was among vessels in the Pacific at the battle of Iwo Jima. It was used in the American occupation of Japan until it was decommissioned in 1946.
It then carried cargo and passengers between New York City and the Mediterranean as the SS Excambion until 1958.
In the mid 1990s, the ship was decommissioned after almost 30 years as a classroom at sea for about 200 Texas A&M-Galveston students each summer.