Navy ship sunk for artificial reef in Keys 20 years ago

The 20th anniversary of the storied intentional sinking of a former Naval ship in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to build an artificial reef is being commemorated in Key Largo.

KEY LARGO, FLORIDA – Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the storied intentional sinking of a former Navy ship to create an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

When the 510-foot-long (155-meter-long) Spiegel Grove sank prematurely on May 17, 2002, it landed with its upside-down bow jutting above the ocean’s surface about 6 miles (10 kilometres) off Key Largo, it gained international attention. The former Landing Ship Dock was totally buried on its starboard side on June 10, 2002, after a huge remediation operation.

Three years later, as Hurricane Dennis passed east of Cuba, strong currents and waves forced the ship into its planned upright position on the ocean floor, roughly 130 feet (40 metres) below the surface.

“In the end, the Spiegel Grove is a story that Hollywood could never have scripted in a million years,” said Rob Bleser, a Key Largo dive operator and the sinking project manager.

Bleser and other key figures will assemble at a local cultural centre on Tuesday evening for a reception and panel discussion about the ship’s remarkable history.

Divers affixed a commemorative plaque to the Spiegel Grove on Sunday, donated by a group of Navy veterans who had served on the ship, that thanked the multimillion-dollar project’s backers as well as military personnel stationed aboard the ship, which was commissioned in 1956.

Karen Berrios of South Carolina became an advanced diver expressly to see the former military vessel on which her late father, William Py, and uncle, Joseph Py, served during the Cold War in the 1980s. She assisted with the installation of the plaque commemorating her ancestors.

“When I got down, I was just trying to envision myself in my father’s shoes gazing around,” Berrios explained. “Did he step here at some point in the past, exactly like I am now?”

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