MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - A nearly 25-year restoration effort is underway on the USS Yorktown as contractors work first on removing 60,000 gallons of fuel from the historic ship.
A 2015 structural assessment of the Yorktown shows a needed $40 million in repairs to the ship's hull that would need to be addressed at some point in the future.
"After more than 40 years resting in the salty water of Charleston Harbor, it was determined that the Yorktown is in relatively great shape structurally, and poses no immediate risks to the environment," said Public Information Officer Chris Hauff with Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.
At the end of February, contractors started the first phase of the restoration process, pumping fuel and an "oily water mixture" from some of the ship's tanks.
"[We needed] to remove some of the fuels and contaminates on the ship so that contractors can safely come aboard and do metal work," said Director of Operations Bob Howard. "To weld and cut on metal, obviously, you need to remove the flammable material."
This phase of the project will cost $132,000 dollars and is being paid for through the non-profit's reserve account.
Moran Environmental Recovery, a contracting company specializing in fuel removal, is working on pumping and cleaning six of the tanks located in a 52-foot section of the ship below deck near the bow.
"When the state of South Carolina took ownership of the Yorktown from the Navy in 1975, the ship was given to us with more than 160,000 gallons of fuel onboard," said Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette. "Before we can tackle the larger projects called for in the 2015 structural assessment of the ship, we have to remove the fuel and oily water mixtures that have been found onboard."
Crews assess each tank first before moving forward with the work.
Hoses are run from the tanks inside the ship, to a 3,000 gallon tanker on the pier. The fuel and water mixture is then pumped into the tanker until it's full. From there, the tanker will dump its contents into a 21,000 gallon tank land-side, before it's transported to a facility in Jacksonville, Florida to be recycled.
"We average about 10,000 to 14,000 gallons of oil and water per day," said Project Manager Bob Carroll with Moran Environmental Recovery.
Crews do more than just pumping the fuel though.
"They use diesel fuel to spray the sides of the tank, walls and the floor to get the heavy residue out," Carroll said. "We'll pull that material out. Then we'll make entry and use de-greaser and a high presser washer to clean the residue."
"The folks from Moran Environmental are actually cleaning inside these tanks and cleaning them after they take the fuel out of them," Howard said. "It's the first time anybody has been in these tanks in decades."
The tanks inside the ship can hold anywhere between 17,000 and 32,000 gallons of fuel.
Worker descend 25 foot ladders to get inside to clean the areas.
"Compartments are tight - it's not easy to maneuver," Carroll said.
Crews expect to complete this phase of the work in the next week and a half.
The USS Yorktown will remain open to the public during the project. Staff says tourists will not be affected by the work that's being done.