As the Battleship Texas continues to suffer from constant leaks and repairs, a team of historians, engineers and preservationists are attempting to move her to land before it’s too late.
The USS Texas is the only surviving American combat vessel to have participated in both World Wars, as well as the only remaining dreadnought in the world. The famous ship—which was launched in 1912 and commissioned in 1914—has not been out of the water since the 1940s save for a brief spell in 1988 to repair her hull. Currently, she's docked in the Houston Ship Channel near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
In the past decade, the battleship has experienced significant erosion and deterioration that will eventually become irreparable. Texas Parks & Wildlife and the Battleship Texas Foundation want to move the ship out of the water to save it—but such an undertaking will cost upwards of $40 million. And if the ship isn’t moved into a dry berth, the government will have to pay $30 million to scrap it.
“If you scrap it, not only have we wasted the dollars on the repairs, we’ve lost the asset,” says Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation. The Foundation is willing to raise part of the money for the dry berth project themselves, Bramlett says, but they need assurance that the government will fund the rest.
Although officials have been planning on moving the USS Texas to a dry berth for over a decade, money that was previously dedicated to moving the ship out of the water had to be redirected to mitigate the intense flooding that's besieged the battleship. In a distressing catch-22, as the ship decays, the leaks worsen, leading to further damage.
After the most recent flooding incident on June 10, the ship was closed for a week for repairs. Flooding in tanks outside the ship caused the ship to begin sinking, deluging holes that are normally above water, leading to more water cascading in. To compensate, contractors tilted the ship and patched up around 25 leaks, the largest of which was 6 by 8 inches. The operation was intensive, requiring divers and projected to cost over a million dollars.
On a day-to-day basis, over 25 pumps remove water from the ship to avoid the corrosive damages that can be caused by an unchecked leak. The estimated average daily leak is greater than 300 tons of water.
"That water sitting in those compartments with steel will lead to rust, and rust will lead to more leaks," says ship manager Andy Smith. "It’s a vicious cycle."
Millions of dollars have already been invested in maintaining the ship, and additional funds have gone into structural repairs, underway since 2014 to prepare the ship to support itself out of the water. Around 15 percent of what it costs to remove the ship from the water is now spent on managing leaks.
The consequences of leaving the ship in the water could be more than just expensive. If there are major structural problems, it could cause contamination in the Houston Ship Channel, leading to what Bramlett calls "an environmental nightmare." Even if it doesn’t contaminate the ship channel, there will be environmental problems in the disposal of the ship, which contains asbestos among its other issues.
The ship is currently undergoing structural repairs that will take around 18 months, but what happens after those are completed is dependent on funding.
"We’re in a state of emergency with the battleship," says Bramlett, "and we’re not going to end that state of emergency until the boat is out of the water."