The USS The Sullivans, which had been taking on water and sinking, has been substantially righted, and operators of the Buffalo and Erie County Military & Naval Park are floating the idea of reopening the ship to the public by Memorial Day weekend.
The news comes about three weeks after the hull of the World War II-era destroyer was breached, causing it to list in the shallow waters of the Buffalo Inner Harbor.
"We are very happy to report today that the effort to save The Sullivans is on course, and the ship is righted and floating," Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown announced Thursday during a news conference at the naval park.
Crews are now focused on containing oil spills in the Inner Harbor from the vessel.
"The emergency response phase is complete and we have started the maintenance and decontamination phase," Brown added.
The mayor was joined by Capt. Lexia M. Littlejohn, commander of the Buffalo sector of the U.S. Coast Guard, naval park President and CEO Paul Marzello and others.
Littlejohn said the current list of the ship varies between .1 and 3 degrees, which is a significant difference from three weeks ago when it was about 20 degrees.
At that time, the ship had taken on hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
"Dewatering is about 95% complete. We've removed over 585,000 gallons of water from the vessel in total," Littlejohn said.
About 2,000 gallons of an additional oily water mix was removed from the ship, along with 9 cubic yards of oil soaked solids. Over 50 holes and gashes were plugged in the hull of the ship, patched with wood and a marine grade epoxy, she added.
"There are continuing assessments inside the vessel and outside the vessel to make sure that all of those temporary repairs that were put into place are holding, and those appear to be holding at this point," Littlejohn said.
She said the Coast Guard will continue to work with the naval park, the City of Buffalo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure that the contamination threat is mitigated.
She said officials are potentially looking at the permanent repair phase to begin, too.
Meanwhile, Marzello said naval park officials are working very hard to put together a reopening plan for the USS The Sullivans.
"Tentatively speaking, we're focused on Memorial Day weekend. That would normally be a very popular weekend for us," Marzello said.
He said the naval park is preparing to take down emergency fencing from areas where it is no longer needed.
Marzello and the mayor described the ship as a critical piece of U.S. naval and military history that the community is fortunate to have in its midst.
The ship is a floating tribute to a working class family in which five brothers were killed aboard the USS Juneau during World War II, when it was struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the deaths of 687 men.
Brown said it will cost millions of dollars to permanently repair the 80-year-old vessel. He speculated that funds would be sought from state and federal sources for the repairs.
Last year, a private fundraiser was spearheaded by developer Douglas Jemal that brought in more than $1 million to repair the ship's breached hull.
Marzello said it was too early to tell what the full extent of the damage has been to the ship.
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