In-depth: Suisun Bay reserve fleet


SUISUN BAY (KRON) — With Donald Trump ready to enter the White House following a promise to strengthen the miliatry, many are wondering how that will affect the Bay Area.

For more than 40 years, residents traveling in the East Bay near Benicia have seen a familiar sight–goliath ships on the water of the bay.

It’s been called the Mothball Fleet and some say it’s an eyesore and environmental problem. But it is the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, and whether in time of war or in response to a national emergency, they stand ready to serve at a moment’s notice.

They almost never make a sound, standing sentinel as you observe them from land, but they are always poised for purpose.

“This is a place where some of them are laid up,” Joe Pecoraro said. “That is a place where they are upgraded from or downgraded to depending on the needs of the nation.”

The place is Suisun Bay, and they are the Suisun Bay Ready Reserve Fleet.

Quadcopter4 gives us a good look at what locals have long called the Mothball Fleet, a group of commercial vessels overseen by Pecoraro.

“The fleet is a collection of ex-commercial cargo ships that were taken out of service for what we have left here back in the 80s and converted for other purposes, mostly for hauling military cargo during acts of war or times of emergency,” Pecoraro said.

Suisun Bay is one of only three anchorages in the country ready to serve. During Vietnam, 172 ships were pressed into service.

More recently, five vessels helped with recovery following Hurricane Katrina, and six provided relief to Haiti after the earthquake in 2005.

“A lot of these ships…(were) built in the mid-60s. There were a lot of ready reserve force ships that were also built in the 60s,” Pecoraro said. “There’s even sister ships, like this one here, that are still out there operating in the ready reserve force, so we are able to take parts and equipment that are readily replaceable and off of these ships and put them onto ships that are more active.”

There are 12 ships currently in the reserve fleet up in Suisun Bay.

The Green Mountain State began as a commercial cargo ship, but it’s been converted. That happened in the 1980s. It transitioned to a crane ship.

So what happens next?

That remains to be told.

Most of the ships in today’s fleet are sister ships to those in active duty. That means these vessels docked in the Bay exist as backup for replacement parts.

The Petersburg is different. And with a crew of seven on board, one petroleum discharge ship could be ready to go in 10 days, which may be a sign of things to come.

“I think we are gonna grow,” Pecoraro said. “Once we prove that we can handle a ship here with a crew and provide them with all of their needs and actually show it, it’s a lot more inexpensive than to do this at a commercial berth in say San Francisco or Alameda. I think we’re going to attract a lot more business out here.”

When Suisun Bay first opened the reserve fleet, it hosted 125 ships. By 1952, that number had risen to 340.

Today, along with Virginia and Texas, the numbers have fallen.

But with 12, Benicia still has the largest number of vessels in the reserve fleet in the United States, and they hope that number will rise.

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