U.S. Ship Management
Following World War II, the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF, now often called the Ghost Fleet) was established by the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946 to store inactive vessels in reserve for reactivation during national emergencies. The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) is charged with the responsibility to manage the NDRF, which includes disposing of non-retention government owned merchant class vessels (dry cargo ships, tankers and military auxiliaries) of 1,500 gross tons or more (Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, as amended). Non-retention vessels are no longer military or non-military useful assets and therefore await disposal designation.
The U.S. Navy is responsible for disposing of all obsolete combatant vessels and merely transfers inactive Navy merchant class vessels to MARAD for storage in the NDRF as described above. Only in instances when overcrowded berthing conditions exist at a Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility (NISMF) may non-retention Battleships, Cruisers, and Aircraft Carriers be transferred to NDRF locations for berthing while awaiting disposal.
The United States is a party to the International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (also known as the London Convention), which imposes restrictions on the deliberate ocean disposal of waste material. The Convention aims “… to prevent the pollution of the sea by the dumping of waste and other matter that is liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and
interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea (Article I).
These vessels are merely transferred to NDRF locations on a custodial basis in accordance with the Economy Act of 1932 for berthing,
however, retains title, and therefore disposal responsibility remains with the Navy for all combatant vessels.
Rapidly deteriorating vessels awaiting disposal at the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia Image Source: www.bigshipwrecks.com/images/mediakit/ghostFleet.jpg
The act of sinking vessels at sea for the purpose of disposal is considered ocean dumping under the provisions of the Convention: “Dumping has been defined as the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels,
structures, as well as the deliberate disposal of
these vessels or platforms themselves.”1
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