US aircraft carrier 'Intrepid' remains stuck in the mud

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The Independent US

The forward planning was executed with appropriate military precision. On Monday, a flotilla of tugboats was to tow the retired naval aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, from its home of the past 24 years at a pier on the West Side of Manhattan across the Hudson river to a temporary dock in New Jersey for refurbishment.

But yesterday morning the hulking vessel, which since retirement has served as a living memorial to those who served on its decks as well as one of New York's most popular museums, was nowhere to be seen in Bayonne, New Jersey. She was still at the Manhattan pier, wallowing not in glory but in mud.

Call her, in fact, the USS Obstinate. To the chagrin of everyone involved, Monday's operation, attended by scores of waving veterans as well as a phalanx of New York's senior politicians, went gravely awry. The ship got stuck in the mud and may remain so for a long time.

It is not that she refused to budge entirely. It was shortly before 10am on Monday, when the tide was higher than at any time this year following the full moon, when the massive engines of the tugs began their labours. Smoke spewed from tugboat funnels, water churned and the ship moved - a bit. Regrettably, however, Intrepid had shifted only 15 feet from her pier when suddenly there was no pulling her any more.

While she has no engines of her own, the 15-foot propellers still protrude from her rear and they, apparently, dug themselves irretrievably into the mud of the riverbed.

"We had 40 government - federal, state and local - agencies working with us. We had the sun, the moon and the stars in alignment, and it was just a very disappointing day for us," said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

The good news is that the ship did not make it far enough to block shipping lanes on the Hudson. But Mr White now seems to be at a loss over what to do next. The vessel was set for a refit that was to take 18 months and cost about $20m (£10.5m). One unwelcome option may be to try to perform the work on the ship exactly where she is.

At stake is the future of not just a historic ship - Intrepid spearheaded the US assault on Japan in the Second World War and saw service during the Korean and Vietnam wars - but also for a museum that for more than two decades has drawn hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Pier 86 to view not only its insides but also the scores of veteran warplanes parked on its decks.

"We had a lot of horsepower. The tide was right. The weather was right. But mother nature was against us," said Jeffrey McAllister, the lead tugboat pilot.

The carrier's move involved meticulous preparation worthy of its first departure for Pacific war combat in 1943, and dozens of former crew members attended the send-off. Two former mayors, Edward Koch and David Dinkins, cast off the final mooring lines at the order of retired Rear Admiral J Lloyd "Doc" Abbot Jr, 80, Intrepid's commanding officer from 1960 to 1962 and honorary commander for the day.

A recent addition to exhibits at the Intrepid site has been a retired British Airways Concorde. It too is scheduled temporarily to leave Pier 86, where it has rested for the past two years parked on a barge docked adjacent to Intrepid.

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