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South Jersey

November 14, 1999
Maintenance work begins on battleship

Courier-Post staff

PHILADELPHIA - The crowds that lined the Delaware River were gone and the pomp of patriotic music, boat parades and gun salutes were history.

A day after the battleship USS New Jersey was docked here at the shipyard of its birth, deck hands began the process of preparing the inactive ship for a temporary visit that will last several months.

Only a dribble of spectators, a few from private businesses here and a couple of veterans, came to a private cruise ship and tug pier at this former naval shipyard Friday to admire the mothballed warship from a short distance.

The ship's 16 battle stars in three major wars distinguish it as the most decorated in U.S. naval history.

"I guess you could say this is a hot tourist attraction right now even though it is not officially open to the public and no one can go on board," said Warren Christensen, the Navy's chief spokesman in Philadelphia.

The ship, whose naval designation is BB-62, docked Thursday to great hoopla along the Delaware River following a 5,800-mile voyage under tow. But its final journey will not end until the Navy decides by early next year whether the New Jersey will become a museum for tourists five miles up the river in Camden, or in Bayonne, in the lower New York harbor.

Until then, the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility is in charge of the ship, built here and launched on Dec. 7, 1942.

Christensen said the maintenance schedule includes dehumidification, hull protection and regular watch visits around the clock to make sure lines are in place and no mishaps have occurred.

On Friday, deck hands set and released more slack in a stern mooring chain from the deck, sending it into the water alongside the dock with a grind and a loud plop.

Capt. Walter Urban, another Navy spokesman, said chains and more white nylon mooring lines were added to better secure the New Jersey, the greatest war hero of the four Iowa-class battleships - the largest ever built by the United States.

The New Jersey rests at Pier 4, opposite the even bigger aircraft carrier America, which almost dwarfs the 887-foot-long battleship and obscures the view of it from downriver. A locked gate signals that both are off-limits to the public. The main entrance to the mothballed fleet on Broad Street also is guarded.

Contractors hired by the Navy will begin re-installing a dehumidification system that was disconnected when the New Jersey left on its two-month trip from Bremerton, Wash., Sept. 12.

Christensen said the humidity level will be set between 45 and 55 percent to prevent rusting of the interior.

The Navy also bought two new cylindrical fenders that were placed in the water next to the hull to keep it from banging into the pier.

Another maintenance step is prevention of corrosion on the steel hull from contact with water. The Navy will install cathodic protection - metal electrodes in the water that repel sea growth, he said.

In addition, electric power will be run from the pier so the ship's own lighting system can be activated.

"We won't be painting it or doing anything else," he said.

One of the visitors Friday was Vietnam veteran William Sheppard of Fanwood, Union County, who is leading a new coalition known as BB-62. He said it is not part of the New Jersey Battleship Foundation, a fund-raising group for the ship.

"I split from the foundation because it seems to be biased toward Bayonne. We don't care about the fight between the sites - Camden and Bayonne. Let's just get the ship home and let's get everyone together and heal the wounds," he said.

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