The World War II ship the USS Mohawk was scuttled 28 miles off the coast of Sanibel Island in the early afternoon of Monday July 2nd. It is now an artificial reef for divers and anglers and is a veterans memorial.
The county’s Marine Services Program and Reefmakers LLC, a Key West company that specializes in sinking ships as artificial reefs, was scheduled to scuttle the 165-foot World War II Coast Guard cutter at 11 a.m., but it was delayed by nearly two hours.
Just before 1 p.m., there was a loud explosion, debris flew off the ship and it slowly descended to the bottom of the Gulf. It took just three minutes to sink below the water line.
“It’s a big day for us. We’ve done artificial reefs in the past, but we’ve done nothing that was like this. We’ve got the opportunity to take an old historic vessel and give her a final duty that’s fitting of the service that she’s given to this country,” said Steve Boutelle, with Lee County Natural Resources.
Joe Weatherby and his team spent two months in Fort Myers Beach preparing the rusted ship, removing hazardous oil and readying her for her final destination.
“She’s still got her propellers, she’s still got her guns and her life raft back on board and you never ever, ever see artificial reefs going into the sea looking like this,” Weatherby said.
Six charges were placed on the USS Mohawk and detonated at different times, allowing thousands of gallons of water to rush into the ship at once so that it will sit right side up.
Sunday morning crews towed the ship to its final destination and anchored it in preparation for the sinking.
“They spent a lot of time and a lot of money getting the ship ready environmentally – making sure it’s clean, there’s no oil leaking or any problems with that. The guns were taken off, decommissioned, and put back on. The props were put back on, so from a diver’s perceptive, it’s as if the boat did sink accidentally and it looks like it was operating when it went down,” explained Jeff Miller, President of the Coastal Conservation Association.
Similar artificial reef projects have created millions of tourism dollars throughout Florida.
The USS Mohawk will make the only artificial reef of its kind in Southwest Florida, and it’s the first to honor veterans.