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Didn’t a destroyer come loose on the Cape Fear River during Hurricane Bertha?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

News sources never called it a “destroyer,” but a Navy vessel due for scrapping did slip its moorings on the Northeast Cape Fear River on July 12, 1996, as Hurricane Bertha passed over the city.

The vessel drifted into the main Cape Fear channel, then rammed a city dock at the Coastline Convention Center. City officials estimated the collision caused roughly $75,000 in damage, not including damage to several private vessels also moored nearby. Wilmington police officers, in rain gear, were able to secure the ship, which was never identified by name in news reports.

The Sigma Recycling lot along the Northeast Cape Fear River is vacant after the ship-scrapping company closed, in this photo taken in August 2001. StarNews file photo.

The scrapping yard — operated by a complicated network 0f private corporations, including Wilmington Resources, Sigma Recycling LLC and Sigma Marine — opened in 1994 at 2000 U.S. 421 North. The yard had a checkered career. As chronicled in the Baltimore Sun, one worker was killed and another seriously injured on the job. A minesweeper sank at the site, oil spilled into the river and asbestos, oil and lead contaminated land near the moorings.

By coincidence, on July 25, 1996, state officials ordered the scrapping yard closed, citing environmental hazards that had first been reported by an anonymous tipster. The Navy eventually was forced to reclaim 12 ships and tow them to other ports.

Most of the ships handled by Sigma Recycling were 1950s-vintage Navy vessels, including the guided missile destroyers USS Farragut and USS Luce and the minesweepers USS Leader and USS Adroit. The yard was also assigned one retired ship from the U.S. Maritime Administration.

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Pat Marriott

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