BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – City officials held a press conference Saturday afternoon at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park to address the status of USS The Sullivans, as it began sinking earlier this week.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the ship will not be righted this weekend, and “probably will not be done by next week,” but assured that the Naval Park, the Coast Guard, the City of Buffalo, Erie County and others are working to make it happen, calling it an “expensive undertaking that we are all engaged in.”
Brown said that weather thus far has not been optimal for working on the ship, which has made it more difficult. He also urged the public to follow safety procedures in the area, and stay behind the protective fencing, for the safety of workers on the ship and the public.
Paul Marzello, president and CEO of the Naval Park, laid out the five main priorities of the operation:
- Save the ship
- Make sure those working on project are safe
- Remove all contaminants
- Stabilize ship
- Be transparent with community in releasing info
“USS The Sullivans is a national historic landmark,” Marzello said. “She is a gift to Buffalo, N.Y. and she represents the courage and the honor and the commitment, of not only the five Sullivan boys who that ship is named after, but the thousands of veterans that have served this country.”
Marzello said two other members will be added to the team — one he described as having “immense talent and commitment” — in hopes to save the ship. They are a Navy architect and an international salvage team. He reiterated the message he’s been saying all along, “failure is not an option.”
He spoke of the progress the team has made, saying they are scaling back how much water they are pumping out of the ship as they work to pump out more contaminants. Additionally, he dismissed rumors that USS The Sullivans may be scrapped.
“There has been no discussion of scrapping the ship,” Marzello said. “As we have stated from day one, we’re going to save her.”
Commander Bill McKinstry provided insight as to how the team is going about saving The Sullivans, as well as insight into the addition of the Navy architect, saying the team wanted someone who could provide expertise about the status of the ship’s interior as they deal with ‘unknowns’ presented by the damage.
“The myriad of folks that stand up here with me today, all of us have been here from the beginning of this, and we will be here at the end of this,” the commander said. “So, as has been noted and stated multiple times, failure is not an option. We are here to save The Sullivans.”
Commander McKinstry said divers are pulling ‘product’ out of the vessel and putting it in an outside tank to be disposed and that the ship is stable. He added that the ‘product,’ or contaminants, are made up of diesel and hydraulic fluid.
“Buffalo sometimes has weather anomalies called seiches that come in and out,” he said. “The boat as it stands is stable. It is not moving. What you see is the water rising and lowering.”
Officials have met three times per day since Thursday to assess the situation to come up with the best plan of attack. On Saturday, Marzello said they changed course in their morning briefing in order to remove fuel and hydraulic fluid from the ship before it could contaminate the water.
“We’re pumping any contaminants out of the ship, before we were pumping water with contaminants, but now we are being very cautious.”
As for the planned maintenance on the ship that was scheduled to begin Monday, Marzello said that will be delayed. Their primary concern is to upright the vessel and keep the first responders safe. He did say, however, that the Smithsonian contacted the Naval Park about replacing anything potentially lost in the damage, as photos and artifacts were onboard.
Mayor Brown said this process will be intense, collaborative and expensive, but says they will do everything in their power to save The Sullivans.
“We will continue to work in a unified fashion and a collective fashion to save this important piece of our United States Naval heritage,” Mayor Brown said after thanking the community and the country for the outpouring of support.
The full press conference can be seen below.