South Carolina Plans to Clean Up Historic Carrier USS Yorktown

Yorktown at her permanent berth in Charleston Harbor (CC BY 3.0)

Published Jul 12, 2022 11:04 AM by The Maritime Executive

The State of South Carolina is developing a plan to remove toxic pollutants from the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, a National Historic Landmark located at Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor.

According to the state, the hull of the Yorktown is corroding and the chances of a leak have been increasing, prompting the need to remove about 160,000 gallons of petroleum and more than a million gallons of polluted water. These toxic liquids were never removed from the ship’s 428 vessel tanks and compartments by the U.S. Navy, according to the state. 

Commissioned in 1943, Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the U.S Navy. The aircraft carrier was initially named Bonhomme Richard but was renamed Yorktown after the previous USS Yorktown (CV-5) was sunk at the Battle of Midway. She served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and she was donated by the Navy to the State of South Carolina in 1975 for use as a museum ship. The ship gained fame for picking up the Apollo 8 crew and spacecraft in 1968 after the first human mission to the moon.

The decommissioned carrier is maintained by the Patriots Point Development Authority and serves as a tourists’ attraction at the authority’s naval and maritime museum facility, which receives more than 300,000 visitors annually.  

To avert an environmental disaster, Governor McMaster has issued an executive order directing the South Carolina Office of Resilience (SCOR) to begin the process of removing the toxic pollutants by commissioning an updated cost study for the project.

"This executive order protects Charleston Harbor and the entire Lowcountry from these hazardous materials leaking out of the USS Yorktown and into the harbor,” said Governor McMaster.

The cost study by the state government will be the second following a 2013 study undertaken by Shaw Group, which concluded that it would cost as much as $4.4 million for a complete remediation effort.

The earlier study also identified a significant quantity of hazardous or potentially hazardous materials whose presence created safety issues, increased costs of maintenance and increased risk for a release of contaminants to Charleston Harbor. The primary concern is the 160,000 gallons of legacy residual fuel found to exist in 129 structural tanks and compartments aboard the ship. The oil is combined with 1.75 million gallons of water, which will also need to be removed so that the tanks can be cleaned.

SCOR is expected to undertake an updated comprehensive review, evaluation, analysis or assessment of any and all remaining legacy contaminants that are currently contained within Yorktown and the options or plans to remove or remediate any such hazardous or potentially hazardous materials, including an updated estimate of the corresponding costs.

"The USS Yorktown is very important to South Carolina’s history and tourism. Our team stands ready to begin the process of collaborating with state leaders, state agencies and Patriots Point for the complete remediation of the contents in the USS Yorktown,” ssaid Ben Duncan, SCOR Chief.