Philly salvage: Navy pays $8.5M in bid to save $90M

The Navy is paying $8.5 million to Philadelphia Ship Repair, a unit of Northeast Ship Repair, a Boston company owned by J.F. Lehman & Co., headed by Reagan-era Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman, a Philly-area native and St. Joseph's University (BA), Cambridge and Penn (Ph.D) grad, to pull useful parts off five 1970s-era Navy ships that have been rusting in the Reserve Basin outside the former Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Navy spokesman Joseph B. Battista sent me an outline of the "harvesting effort" the Navy is applying to five frigates, long visible outside Urban Outfitters headquarters from the I-95 bridge over the mouth of the Schuylkill. (My father, Renato T. DiStefano Jr., see p. 48 here, worked on the electronics for these frigates for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Navy engineering arm which, with other Navy offices, employs 1,600 engineers and techs in its offices east of the old shipyard.) -- Adapted from Battista's note to me:

The Navy built 51 guided-missile frigates from 1975 - 1989, expecting they'd last 30 years. (This group is called Oliver Hazard Perry frigates, after the first ship in the class, named for the hero of the War of 1812's Battle of Lake Erie, who built his wooden frigates in the woods of northwest Pennsylvania, and blasted apart a Canadian-built British fleet. Modern frigates are specialized warships with just one propeller.) 

Some 15 of those ships remain in service with the U.S. Navy. Others steam for foreign navies (Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey). Five have been "decommissioned" and stored (Dad called the process 'mothballing") at the basin, the rebuilt arm of the onetime channel that winds partway around the former League Island (where the base was) and is used to store old ships (the Delaware is fresh water, which means that ships here tend to rust less than in other Navy ocean ports on salt water).

The Navy has decided these five frigates are "logistics assets," which is to say, they will have spare parts removed, then get scrapped. The ships designated for scavenging and scrapping are "ex- Hawes (FFG 53), ex- Doyle (FFG 39), ex- USS Stephen W. Groves (FFG 29), ex-USS John L. Hall (FFG 32) , and ex-USS Boone (FFG-28)." The Navy agency known as Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division "took temporary custody of the ships from Inactive Ships during the harvesting project, for up to 1 year."

The first, the former Hawes, moved into Philadelphia dry dock #3 on Nov. 5 and will be there 11 weeks while contractors from Philadelphia Ship Repair pull off what's worth saving. Philadelphia Ship Repair is being paid $8,476,483, in a "firm-fixed price contract for up to five ships."

The "Items to be removed include marine gas turbines, propellers, hubs, oil distribution boxes, propeller and stern tube shafts, rudders, auxiliary propulsion units, clutches, pumps, motors, controllers, valves, coolers, oily water separators, sonar domes, and purifiers. The value of these parts is estimated at $100 million, if all are reutilized."

So the Navy saves around $90 million, if all the parts are usable. They'll be rebuilt at other Navy facilities, or stored in warehouses until other ships need them. The ship hulls, Battista concludes, "will be returned to Inactive Ships and put back in the reserve basin upon completion of the harvesting," to be disposed of by Naval Sea Systems Command.