Another vessel will join thousands of shipwrecks in NC’s ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’

The tugboat Fort Fisher is spending its last few weeks above water
The tugboat Fort Fisher is spending its last few weeks above water

North Carolina is about to add another shipwreck to its notorious “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Early next month, the tugboat Fort Fisher will set sail one last time to a spot two and a half miles off the coast, where water will be pumped into its holds, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

The 62-year-old vessel will founder and sink, falling straight to the bottom of the Atlantic, officials hope.

There, it will become part of an artificial reef system that has given the state a reputation as an international destination for divers, according to VisitNC.com.

Historians believe there are about 2,000 shipwrecks off the N.C. coast, an “unusually large number” that has led to its being dubbed “the Graveyard of the Atlantic,” according to NCpedia.com. The earliest of the wrecks date back to the mid 1700s and the more recent ones include German U-boats sunk during World War II, says the site.

The Fort Fisher was built in 1956 for use by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and was originally called The Cleveland, according to TugBoatInformation.com It came south after being sold to a Morehead City-based towboat company in 1971, the site says.

The tugboat will join 26 other vessels that have been purposely sunk off the N.C. coast as artificial reefs, said Jordan Byrum, the state’s artificial reef coordinator, in an interview with McClatchy.

In years past, explosives were used to sink such ships, but Byrum said that proved to be dangerous and caused too much damage to the ships. Instead, the 98-foot-long tugboat will have holes cut in its hull. The holes are covered with “soft patches” that collapse as water is pumped into the ship, he said.

“It’s not as impressive as an explosion, but you don’t have to be a half mile away,” Byrum told McClatchy.

A specific date for the sinking has not been set, because work is still being done to remove furniture and other “loose objects,” as well as potentially toxic materials like fuel and oil, Byrum said.

It’s one of three artificial reefs that are currently in progress, he said. The other two, to be located in estuaries, will feature concrete materials that will serve as “crucial spawning and foraging habitat” for fish important to the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, according to a press release from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program.

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Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs