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Originally published January 5, 2011 at 12:00 PM | Page modified January 6, 2011 at 11:30 AM

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Cayman Islands sinking U.S. Navy ship to create reef

A decommissioned U.S. Navy ship is being sunk in the clear waters off the Cayman Islands, where officials hope the vessel will attract tourists and fish.

Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Contractors began flooding a decommissioned U.S. Navy ship Wednesday to sink it in the clear waters off the Cayman Islands, where officials hope the vessel will attract tourists and fish.

Plans called for the USS Kittiwake, a 1945-vintage submarine rescue ship, to rest on a sandy bottom off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach. The 47-foot-tall (14-meter) ship will be at a depth of 62 feet (19 meters), so the top deck should be close to the Caribbean Sea's surface, making it easily accessible for snorkelers and divers.

Crews were carefully flooding the battered hulk in hopes the 2,200-ton (1,995 metric ton) ship would settle upright. Holes were punched in the hull and large pumps were gradually piping seawater into the ship, which was compartmentalized into three sections.

"I'm on pins and needles. We're trying to keep the ship on a level, even keel so hopefully it will go down nice and smooth," project manager Nancy Easterbrook said during a phone interview from a nearby boat on Seven Mile Beach.

The Kittiwake's scuttling raised mixed emotions in Jon Glatstein, who was a sailor on the vessel from 1984 to 1986. He traveled to this wealthy British Caribbean territory to watch his old ship sink beneath the waves.

"This is the first time I've seen the ship in 25 years, and she's in pretty rough shape. But she's been serving divers all her life and now she's going to continue doing just that. That's got to be a whole lot better than getting melted down for razor blades," said Glatstein, now an IT manager in Miami.

About 40 boats carrying locals and tourists circled around the ship to watch it sink. Several parasailors enjoyed a birds-eye view under clear skies.

Officials had hoped to sink the ship Tuesday, but windy weather and choppy seas forced a postponement.

Premier McKeeva Bush said the operation "represents the single most significant occurrence in a decade for Cayman's dive industry."

Besides being a lure for tourists, the Kittiwake will be an artificial reef that can shelter fish and crustaceans in waters known for excellent visibility and abundant sea life.

The MV Captain Keith Tibbetts, a Russian frigate sunk off the coast of Cayman Brac in 1996, is now decorated with a thick coating of sponges and corals.

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