Navy can use Gulf of Alaska for ship target practice

The Anchorage Daily NewsJuly 26, 2011 

The Navy has obtained authority to blast and sink as many as two real ships a year in the Gulf of Alaska over the next five years to give pilots and gunners authentic targets for their sights.

But ocean campaigners say that even decommissioned, stripped-out ships, like the ones the Navy will use as targets, contain residual hazardous materials that can poison the Gulf's rich habitat for years. They're trying to stop the target practice before it begins.

In May, the Navy finished an environmental review of new training options and authorized itself a maximum of two ship sinkings a year in the Gulf.

A Navy spokesman said there is currently no schedule to start the Alaska sinkings. But opponents of the practice want to ensure it doesn't happen.

The Sierra Club and Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based environmental group, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency this month to stop the Navy's nationwide SINKEX program.

They maintain it will have toxic side effects, including release of PCBs into the environment.

"The Navy's plan to extend SINKEX operations to the Gulf of Alaska, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, while also acknowledging their intention to sink vessels without first removing all toxins, is a threat to marine life in the Gulf of Alaska," said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network, who co-authored a recent report on the program.

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