Cleaning Up the Ghost Fleet of Suisun Bay

Baykeeper Secures Agreement to Remove the Ghost Fleet

Victory!San Francisco Baykeeper has successfully settled our lawsuit against the Maritime Administration to clean up the Ghost Fleet of Suisun Bay. The agency will be required to permanently remove the ships by 2017, removing the worst ships first, and to clean up the loose and peeling paint from the vessels' exteriors within the year. For an update on recent cleanup progress, click here.

More than fifty decommissioned and deteriorating vessels are anchored in Suisun Bay, leaching toxic paint and heavy metals into the water and sediment of the Bay. An estimated 20 tons of heavy metals – including lead, zinc, copper and cadmium – have already fallen, blown or washed off the ships into the water, according to a MARAD-commissioned analysis. Projections indicate that the ships would have lost an additional 50 tons of heavy metals to San Francisco Bay in future years as the vessels’ condition deteriorated further.

ghost_fleetBaykeeper – along with Arc Ecology and Natural Resources Defense Council – first sued to end the discharge of toxic heavy metals and to force the cleanup of these deteriorating vessels in 2007.

On January 21, 2010, a federal court ruled that the Maritime Administration, the federal agency responsible for the fleet, is illegally polluting the Bay and illegally storing hazardous waste.

Internal communications and testimony obtained by the environmental groups through the lawsuit show that MARAD knew about the problem for more than a decade. Yet the agency never stopped the illegal pollution, and repeatedly ignored several acts of Congress requiring disposal of the ships.

Suisun Bay, located in northern San Francisco Bay near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is critical habitat for several species of endangered fish, including Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. The State of California has warned residents to limit consumption of fish caught in Suisun Bay due to pollution. Pollutants in the sediment directly below the vessels were found to be in concentrations that exceed California’s hazardous waste toxicity criteria and in levels high enough for sediment-dwelling creatures to consume the toxins, which introduces them to the food chain of the Bay.

The ships in the Ghost Fleet were decommissioned and placed in “storage” in Suisun Bay after World War II and the Korean War with the idea that they could be reactivated for wartime use. Most vessels are no longer seaworthy, however, and water must be pumped from them regularly to keep them afloat, they leak fuel, and most are severely rusted and are peeling toxic paint.

Baykeeper is pleased to have secured a strong cleanup plan for protecting the waters of Suisun Bay and the larger San Francisco Bay ecosystem from the pollution of the Ghost Fleet.