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USS The Sullivans takes on water, lists in Buffalo Harbor

The USS The Sullivans took on water and began listing in its place Thursday at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
The USS The Sullivans took on water and began listing in its place Thursday at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

A decommissioned U.S. Navy destroyer which has served for generations as a popular Buffalo waterfront attraction was taking on water late Wednesday and by Thursday began listing near its starboard stern.

The USS The Sullivans, named in memory of five brothers killed in action in World War II, is one of three decommissioned vessels which are centerpieces of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

Divers were in the water Thursday morning, and pumpers were ejecting an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 gallons of water per minute. Park president and chief executive officer Paul Marzello told WBFO they believed they had reached a point of equilibrium, but were continuing to monitor closely for developments.

Buffalo Fire, Buffalo Police, the US Coast Guard and US Department of Homeland Security were among the agencies at the scene landing assistance. Because the ship is decommissioned, the US Navy is not expected to assist. But Marzello noted that many military and veteran volunteers have offered their services.

It was already known the Sullivans' hull, due to its age and the years of wear and tear it endured from Buffalo winters, was in need of repair. A campaign was launched to raise the funds needed to conduct the repairs.

"We did a whole survey probably two and a half years ago. So we understood exactly what the anticipated problems could be. However, once we got divers in the water, and that's last summer, we found out that the hole was probably in worse shape than we thought," Marzello said. "They started the work on it last summer, I'm going to say late August, September. In October they had to pull their operations out, because the water temperature dipped below 54 degrees. And that was the magic temperature in which the epoxy needs to be able to adhere to the steel. So with that temperature dropping below that temperature, the operation ceased."

Ironically, the repair project was scheduled to resume Monday, April 18. Those conducting the repairs were notified Thursday and brought in sooner.

The USS The Sullivans has been a destination for decades for tourists, school students, scout troops, veterans, and many other visitors. Two other decommissioned ships are docked in the immediate vicinity of the Sullivans, the light cruiser USS Little Rock and the submarine USS Croaker. When asked by WBFO about whether those ships' hulls were also raising concerns, Marzello says the Little Rock, having a thicker hull, was in better shape. The Croaker, meanwhile, underwent an evaluation several weeks ago, and the park is putting together a plan to preserve that vessel.

In the meantime, Marzello stated the wind and water level were not the most ideal for crews working to save the USS The Sullivans from further listing, but personnel were working through them, determined to save the vintage ship.

"Failure is not an option. We have work to do," he said.