Here's a military contract everyone can get behind: a penny to dispose of a 78,000-ton retired aircraft carrier. The Navy announced its latest deal for scrapping a former Forrestal-class flattop on Thursday, saying it had agreed with ESCO Marine of Brownsville, Texas, to dismantle and recycle the former USS Saratoga for a symbolic cent, the least the service can pay for a contract. The firm will cover costs for towing the ship from Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island and dismantling it, earning its profit through the sale of the scrap metal. In 1986, the Saratoga was involved in a major international incident when Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea and killed an American tourist. After the hijackers surrendered to Egyptian authorities, F-14 fighters launched from the carrier intercepted the Egyptian airliner carrying them to Tunisia and forced it to land at a NATO base in Italy. Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, which executed the scrapping contract, says that the service will still own the ship while it is being dismantled and that Navy civilians will be present to oversee the work.
The ship is the second Forrestal-class supercarrier to be towed to Brownsville for scrapping. An identical deal was struck for the class namesake, USS Forrestal, last year with Brownsville firm All Star Metals. Plans also call for the USS Independence, another carrier in the class, to be towed as soon a third firm, International Shipbreaking Ltd. of Brownsville, completes its security clearance. All ships in the Forrestal-class were powered by oil-burners. Commissioned in 1956, the Saratoga was stationed in Mayport, Fla., and saw repeated deployments to the Mediterranean Sea. The carrier's aircraft flew sorties in the Vietnam War, in Operation Desert Shield and over the states of the former Yugoslavia in 1992. It was pulled from service in 1994 and towed to Rhode Island for use as a museum ship, a plan that was never realized because of local funding issues. Towing from Naval Station Newport is expected to begin this summer.