BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — USS The Sullivans is slowly going underwater.
“This morning, the USS The Sullivans took on water and is partially sinking due to a major hull breach,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says. “Efforts are underway to evaluate the situation and take appropriate action to preserve this critical piece of our nation’s naval heritage. The Department of Public Works and the Buffalo Fire Department are on site and coordinating with the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park staff to determine the next course of action.”
The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park is temporarily closing off the museum and all ships to the public. Naval Park President Paul Marzello says it’s a tough day for veterans and the park itself.
“It’s a tough day for anybody who has put their time, effort, sweat into making sure that this park can sustain operations and keep and preserve these ships for another generation,” Marzello said. “We are confident that we are going to be able to correct the situation. It doesn’t look very good. But we are going to be back on this as soon as we can find out what is the cause.”
Marzello says some sort of incident took place Wednesday night, and it’s not clear if it was a seam split or a puncture. But his confidence remains, and there’s good reason for it, as Marzello says the rate of water being pumped out exceeds the amount that’s coming in.
“There is no chance that the ship is actually going to sink,” Marzello says.
The site of a World War II destroyer listing drew a number of people to the waterfront. Vietnam veteran Lawrence Pask was one of them.
“It’s a great pleasure to have it docked here. Now it’s slowly disappearing on us,” Pask said.
But staff worked quickly to make sure that wouldn’t happen. During a conference Thursday afternoon, Marzello said 13,000 gallons of water were being pumped out of USS The Sullivans every minute.
“Failure is not an option,” Marzello says.
It’s been just over 79 years since USS The Sullivans was launched. In recent years, it’s desperately been in need of repairs to keep it from taking on more water. Earlier this month, Congressman Brian Higgins made an announcement about $490,000 in federal funding that had been awarded to the Naval Park.
Saving The Sullivans has been an ongoing effort, with support coming from multiple sources, including at least 25 states and seven countries. After the Naval Park raised $1 million to keep it shipshape, another fundraiser took place last month at Seneca One Tower.
Work to fix the ship started in August but stopped two months later. The plan was to continue the work this Monday.
Named for the five Sullivan brothers who were killed in World War II, Higgins calls USS The Sullivans “a critical piece of our maritime history that deserves to be preserved long into the future.”
“As the decommissioned ship shows its age, this funding will ensure that necessary repairs can be completed so it can continue to be toured and enjoyed by veterans, visitors, and community members for many years to come,” Higgins said of the previously announced federal funding.
USS The Sullivans was commissioned in 1943 and later decommissioned in 1965. Earning 11 battle stars over more than two decades, the ship was used in World War II, the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Today, it is docked on the Buffalo River, which is about 16-18 feet deep where the ship sits. Marzello says there’s a lot of cleanup to be done in the days ahead. Anyone looking to help keep the ship above water can make a donation here.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.