CEO Says He Won’t Let USS The Sullivans Sink

The first sign that the USS The Sullivans was in danger of sinking is when staff at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park noticed the ship was listing to port.

Park officials said the harsh winter and damaging winds have created a crisis for the 78-year-old Fletcher Class destroyer and major attraction at the park.

“We’ve got a National Historic Landmark here. She needs some help,” Paul Marzello, president and CEO of the naval park, said, promising, “I’m not going to let the ship go down on my watch.”

He said age and the weather are to blame.

“The harsh Buffalo winter weather has severely damaged the hull of USS The Sullivans below the waterline and the ship is taking on water,” Marzello said. “If we cannot repair the hull and stop the water, she will sink.”

The ship was made for speed and maneuverability with a thin coating of steel, he said.

“She certainly was not meant to sit in the water for 78 years,” he said. “This is to be expected.”

He said routine maintenance is required on ships of that age, and the naval park repairs holes to the hull every spring.

The park has a plan for the long-term repair that was supposed to start later this year, but it will cost more than $1 million. The park is waiting for funding from a number of sources for the long-term repairs.

But now the need is immediate, and the park is reaching out to the public.

“We’re guessing she’s got at least two to five holes that sprung out,” Marzello said, adding the damage probably is a result of ice freezing and thawing, or debris floating down the Buffalo River. The ship also could have been damaged in storms with high winds, he said.

“At this point the ship requires $100,000 in emergency repairs just to keep her afloat until we can begin the long-term repairs. We are asking for help from the public to raise the $100,000,” Marzello said.

The park is using pumps to remove the water, but they are struggling to keep up, he said. The leak is below the water line. There could be 3 to 4 feet of water in the compartment, which is not on the tour route, he said. It is feared more hull damage could result in the next four to six weeks of winter weather.

The naval park launched a major fundraising campaign last July called All Hands on Deck to raise money to support its operations, in light of reduced visitors and revenues because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

The park is extending the All Hands On Deck campaign and asking for donations from the general public. Contributions can be made securely online at keepingourshipsafloat.org or by contacting the naval park at 716-847-1773.

Every spring a certified diver inspects the ship, and repairs are made on the exterior and interior to several holes the size of a dime to a quarter, Marzello said.

He said it might take a week to pump all the water out to be able to examine the damage. Interior patches could be applied as soon as possible, but a diver could not be sent into the river for the exterior repair until the weather improves.

The ship is named for the five Sullivan brothers from Iowa who were killed in action when the ship they were serving on was struck by torpedoes and sank.

“As a National Historic Landmark, we owe it to the community and the nation that we save her,” Marzello said.

This article is written by Barbara O’Brien from The Buffalo News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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