Hurricane Sandy left many memorable images along the East Coast that included changed or displaced lives, ruined businesses, and miles of damaged beaches, docks, and private waterfronts. One image that illustrated the power of the October storm was of the abandoned oil tanker John B. Caddell after she ran aground on Front Street on Staten Island’s north shore. After a distinguished career with the United States Navy during World War II, and as a commercial vessel after the war, she was sold at auction on June 6, 2013, for $25,000 to be dismantled and used for scrap and recyclable metal.
This 185-foot-long, 72-year-old tanker was one of two remaining American made coastal oil tankers left in the United States. She was built in 1941, by RTC Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, and named after the owner of the Caddell Dry Dock company on Staten Island. She was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1942 and commissioned as yard oiler YO-140. She served from 1942 to 1946, fueling war ships. After WWII, she returned to commercial service under her original name and spent over six decades sailing the waterways of New York’s metropolitan area, delivering heating oil and gasoline. A Nigerian group purchased her in 2009 with the intention of having her sail to Africa, but the U. S. Coast Guard felt the ship wouldn’t be able to make the voyage. The oil tanker was abandoned after that and remained moored at a Staten Island pier until October 29, 2012, when tides from Sandy pushed the ship up on land.
Before this unclaimed shipwreck could be auctioned, the city conducted a detailed search for the latest owners. When they could not be found, the issue went before a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Philip G. Minardo, who declared the oil tanker John B. Caddell abandoned. He then instructed the city sheriff to set a minimum bid of $25,000. Proceeds would be used to pay for storage, advertising, and sheriff’s costs. Any money left after expenses would be put in an escrow account for one year, after which it would go into the city’s general treasury. This sheriff’s auction was based on a New York State Navigation Law which took effect July 1st, 1941. The only company that placed a bid was the Donjon Marine Co. Inc., based in New Jersey. They offered the minimum of $25,000. The dismantling will begin around June 20th and will take place over a period of two months.
A team of ship historians visited the tanker on the day of the auction to film and take photos for a documentary about the tanker. They were also there to see about salvaging parts for future use on the only other coastal oil tanker in the United States, Mary A. Whalen, built in 1938 and undergoing restoration. She has already been a venue for several arts events and programs related to maritime history. In addition, she serves as the headquarters for the nonprofit PortSide New York, in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, under the direction of Carolina Salguero. Not only would the proposed documentary tell the story of John B. Caddell, but would also help tell the story of Mary A. Whalen.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent