NEW YORK – The U.S. Navy is coming to the rescue of one of its mightiest veterans, joining the operation to free the World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid from deep Hudson River mud that has blocked efforts to move the ship to a dry dock for renovation, officials announced Saturday.
A fleet of civilian tug boats tried Monday to pull the 27,000-ton ship out of the berth where it has been serving as the popular Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, but the carrier moved only a few feet before its 16-foot propellers snagged in the 24-year accumulation of sediment.
Under a new plan of attack, the Navy will provide salvage support at a cost of about $3 million. That includes dredging mud from underneath the ship's stern to free the propellers. The Army Corps of Engineers also will be involved.
"On Veterans Day today, as we honor the service of those who sacrificed for our freedom, Intrepid got the greatest news: She will be saved," Intrepid Museum Foundation President Bill White said as he marched alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a Veterans Day parade Saturday.
Although the 900-foot war ship still has its propellers, it no longer has engines and will have to be towed from its berth on Manhattan's West Side down the Hudson River to a shipyard at Bayonne, N.J., for the two-year, $60 million renovation project.
The $3 million Navy effort is in addition to the $60 million refitting cost, White said. "The Navy is footing the bill; however, Intrepid will make its best effort to reimburse the Navy for the cost," he said.
Officials had planned for a combination of federal, state, city and private funds to cover the $60 million.
The operation to free the ship will take place over the next several weeks, but the Navy and its contractors have not set a towing date, White said.
"The expertise that the military is offering to solve this situation is crucial to allowing Intrepid to get under way and for us to stay within our schedule to refurbish the ship and rebuild Pier 86," said Arnold Fisher, chairman of the museum.
Pat Dolan, spokeswoman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said the Navy was "pleased to be providing assistance."
The Intrepid was deployed in 1943 and became a mainstay of the war against Japan in the Pacific, surviving five kamikaze attacks, seven bombs and a torpedo hit. A total of 270 crew members were killed.
It also served in the Vietnam and Korean wars and was a recovery ship for NASA astronauts in the early days of the space program.
Intrepid was saved from the scrap yard in the 1970s by New York builder Zach Fisher. Since then, with military aircraft displayed on its flight deck and in the hangar deck, it has been serving as a memorial to the armed services, drawing more than 700,000 visitors a year.
It is also equipped to serve as an emergency operations center for city and federal authorities, and the FBI used it as a base of operations after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The carrier's refurbishment is to include the opening of more interior spaces to the public and upgrading of exhibits.