World War II Navy Ship Is Tilting Into the Buffalo Waterfront

A warship that survived Japanese air attacks in the Pacific, a typhoon and barrages of artillery fire is sinking, slowly, far from the theaters where it saw combat decades ago: moored in the waterfront of Buffalo, NY

The ship, the USS The Sullivans, suffered “a serious hull breach” on Wednesday and began taking on water at its home for the last several decades, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, the authorities said on Thursday.

The breach occurred aft of midship on the starboard side — in the lower right section of the hull — the chief executive of the park, Paul Marzello, said at a news conference on Thursday.

The cause of the breach was unknown. “We have a problem and we don’t know what it is,” he said. The breach is causing the ship to tilt back and to the right, dipping its side of her at a stark angle into the lake’s murky waters.

On Friday, Mr. Marzello said in a phone interview that workers were “proceeding very cautiously.”

“We have a significant and cherished artifact that we want to save for generations to come,” he said, adding that officials were mindful of environmental concerns.

He said that when the ship arrived in Buffalo, in 1977, the Navy emptied it of fuel and oil to the best of its abilities. But, he said, “it’s much like you have a car that you run on empty, and there is residual left.”

The park said it has been working with marine engineers and members of a marine construction company, the Bidco Marine Group, as well as city and federal agencies: the Fire Department, the Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard.

Work began on Thursday morning as divers from Bidco were in the water “trying to assess the damage,” Mr. Marzello said. He said crews were pumping water out at a rate of “probably some 13,000 gallons per minute.”

“My optimism says that we are getting better,” he said. “We are pumping out now faster than we are taking in.”

He suggested that age played a role in the ship’s breach. “The problem is that we have an 80-year-old vessel that was meant to serve about 25 years, and she served us honorably,” he said. “Was she meant to be a museum ship? That was never in the plan. We are making it the plan because of what it symbolizes.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown, also speaking at the news conference, said Buffalo was “deeply concerned about the condition” of the ship. “This is an important part of our US naval heritage,” he said.

Commissioned in 1943, The Sullivans is one of four remaining examples of the Fletcher-class destroyer left in the world, according to the park.

The ship measures 376 feet long, had an armament that included caliber guns and depth charges, and was crewed by 310 sailors.

Named after five brothers who died during the battle of Guadalcanal, the destroyer left Pearl Harbor in 1944 and served in the Pacific for the remainder of World War II. According to the US Navy, The Sullivans bombed airfields on Iwo Jima, defended against Japanese air attacks, searched for submarines, rescued American sailors and Japanese merchant seaman, and supported the invasion of Okinawa.

The ship also saw action during the Korean War, supporting carriers as they attacked North Korean supply lines. The ship received nine battle stars for her service in World War II, and two for the Korean War, according to the Navy.

The ship was the first ship in the Navy to be named for more than one person, the park said. She was decommissioned in 1965 and donated in 1977 to Buffalo, where it has been designated a landmark for decades.

In 2018, the ship started sinking because of a crack in its hull, according to a local news station, WKBW-TV. The Park ran a fund-raising campaign to pay for the repairs, raising $1 million by late 2021.

Repairs for the ship began last summer but were stopped in October, a delay that Mr. Marzello attributed to lake conditions.

He said that the water must be at least 54 degrees for the epoxy filling used in the repairs to adhere to the steel of the ship. Repairs were expected to resume on Monday, before the new breach developed. The ship is not moored in deep water: When it floats, there is about five feet of water under the ship, according to the city’s Department of Public Works.

“We will right the ship,” he said. “She will not go down.”

In addition to The Sullivans, the park is the home of three other Navy vessels: the USS Little Rock, the USS Croaker and a PTF-17. Those ships, Mr. Marzello said, “will be unavailable to visitors until we figure this out.”

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