A Cold War submarine that Patriots Point Maritime Museum officials say they can no longer afford to maintain could find a new home in Tennessee — or else be permanently sunk off the coast of Florida.
The decommissioned USS Clamagore has been at the state-owned museum in the Charleston Harbor since 1981. But the sub needs at least $3 million in repairs, according to Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette, especially a corroding hull and old ballast tanks that could soon begin leaking. Burdette said the museum is focusing its limited resources on preserving its main attraction the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier — whose repairs will cost at least $80 million.
Burdette said the museum plans to sink the Clamagore in hopes that it will eventually develop into an artificial reef.
But Josh Richardson with Friends of the Clamagore is making a last-ditch effort to save the vessel. Richardson said he has been in talks with leaders in his home of Knoxville, TN about possibly bringing the submarine there.
“It’s a National Historic Landmark,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “How do we just stand by and let it slip away?
The news was first reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Wednesday. Richardson said the group is working to raise the estimated $3-4 million needed to save the vessel. But he admits it will be difficult. Knoxville officials seemed open to the idea in a meeting last month, but are not sure if they’re willing to commit city resources to the project.
“It’s just a huge undertaking,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett told the News-Sentinel. “If it’s my money, I can be emotional about it. But with the taxpayers’ money, it has to be vetted.”
Another complication is that Patriots Point officials are ready to move forward with scuttling the Clamagore. A spokesman for the museum authority said the group’s offer to buy the sub would be considered. But Richardson said his understanding is that the museum wants the vessel gone “by summertime,” unless Knoxville makes a commitment.
The Clamagore is the last of its kind– a Balao-class GUPPY III vessel that served in a transitional period between the end of World War II and the dawn of nuclear-powered subs in the 1950s. She was commissioned in 1945 and served until 1975.
Richardson said there are currently no Navy vessels at inland locations in the Southeast. He said the sub would likely need to be towed from Charleston to the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi, then the Tennessee River. He said either Knoxville or another municipality must make a commitment before any move is realistic.
“Just to simply stand by and let it go is unacceptable to me,” he said. “I mean, even if… this thing has a $5 million price tag, do we simply say it costs too much to honor and remember the men and women who served this country?