Ex-USS Kittiwake ASR 13 - Chanticleer Class Submarine Rescue Ship ASR
Built by: Savannah Machinery and Foundary Co of Savannah, Georgia, USA
Keel Laid: 5th January 1945
Launched: 10th July 1945
Commissioned: 16th July 1945
Decommissioned: 30th September 1994
Displacement: 2290 TONS
Dimensions: 251 Ft Length - 42 Ft Beam - 15 Ft Draft
Machinery: Diesel Electric Propulsion - 1 Shaft - 3000 BHP for 15 Kts
Complement: 85 Officers and Sailors
The ex-USS Kittiwake was a submarine rescue vessel (ASR-13). She was part of the 6th Submarine squadron (SUBRON 6) home ported at the Destroyer-Submarine piers in Norfolk, VA.
She was built by Savannah Machine & Foundry Co. (Savanna, Georgia), awarded May 11, 1944, near the end of WWII, launched July 10, 1945, and commissioned July 18, 1946.
The Kittiwake had an illustrious service for over 54 years, being decommissioned September 30, 1994. After being laid up by the US Navy for six years, the Kittiwake was transferred to the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) in March of 2000. From 2000 - 2009, she resided at the James River Reserve Fleet in Fort Eustis, Virginia (Norfolk area).
MARAD issued an invitation to both US and international applicants to apply for the donation of a ship for the purposes of artificial reefing in 2004, and the Cayman Islands applied for a ship. The Cayman Islands was approved as the pilot project for the “donation of a ship from MARAD to a foreign Government for the purposes of artificial reefing”.
The Kittiwake was transferred from MARAD to the Cayman Islands Government in August 2009, and was cleaned and remediated in Norfolk, Virginia, to become an artificial reef. This included substantial work including the removal of all hazardous materials (like pcb's, asbestos, mercury, cabling, wires, oils, lubricants and a very long list). Additionally, all thin or loose materials that could break off during or soon after sinking were removed. The Kittiwake is possibly the 'cleanest' wreck even to be sunk as an artificial reef.
December 17, 2010, the Kittiwake started her tow to Grand Cayman in a snow and ice storm; a tow that weathered rough winter seas for the better part of her nine day journey, arriving in Grand Cayman midday on December 25, 2010. The 'America' tug boat brought her safely to Grand Cayman.
The Kittiwake is 251 ft long, 44 ft on her beam, and drafted 19 ft fully loaded. Her light displacement was 1704 tons and full displacement was 2193 tons. After removal of much of the equipment and steel on board, her displacement is around 1800 tons of steel for sinking.
She is a very solid steel hull/steel superstructure that had 18 bulkheads, a single screw propeller made of solid brass that is still on board, and had a complement while in active duty of 10 officers and 98 enlisted service personnel. Her armament was removed before export from the USA.
As you can see, the location for sinking the Kittiwake is at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach, on the west or lee side of Grand Cayman at latitude 19 21.714’N and longitude 081 24.073'W for her bow, just off of the Sand Chute dive site. The bottom is flat and sandy. The Kittiwake will rest 64 ft deep at the bottom and be only 15 ft from the surface, ideal for both divers and snorkellers.
There are five decks on the 47 ft tall Kittiwake. Externally, the crow's nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters. The upper decks accommodate the two bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room. The sonar has been removed. The Captain and XO's quarters are also located on the upper decks.
On the main deck, from bow to stern, internally you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop and recompression chambers. You will note the large a-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers, as well as the diving bell where divers would enter to return to the ship from the ocean and then be placed in the chambers for decompression.
Below the main deck, two decks exist that include the crew's quarter, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage and barber shop, to name a few areas. While the Kittiwake has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.
You can snorkel overhead and see the main decks and topography of the ship plus take a look down the smoke stack that opens up straight down to the bottom of the hull and the engine rooms. There is no end of rooms to explore this wreck, that will soon enough become an artificial reef, enhancing the marine environment with new fishery stock and habitats for marine life.
The Kittiwake is situated in marine park that is protected under law in Cayman, with no touching or taking of anything, no gloves allowed and no fishing allowed on the wreck/Kittiwake site. It requires an entrance fee to visit from a licensed operator, with the fees going towards the ongoing maintenance and protection of the new artificial wreck/reef plus natural reefs. An exception to taking fish is made for culling lionfish, an invasive species to Cayman waters.
The primary mission of the Kittiwake was to rescue sailors from downed submarines. She was very much a diving vessel. Many of her stories are still locked away as 'classified'. Over 50 years, she has many stories to tell, from submarine rescues to salvage operations recovering the black box from the Challenger disaster, rescuing a Haitian boat running P-250's non-stop, serving in the Caribbean including Bermuda, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico and Havana, Cuba to name a few stops, to Atlantic crossings to the North Sea, assisting the USS Orion, testing ballistic missiles, recovering dummy missiles from Polaris subs and helping out divers, to running interference for a Trident Submarine missile test (DASO) and almost sinking her from time to time..... she saw the world.
From stories of the crew, there was great comradery and both rewarding and challenging voyages. All in all, the ex-crew are fond of her and say "to know her was to love her, and God bless the USS Kittiwake and those who served aboard her".
KITTIWAKE SINKS OFF SEVEN MILE BEACH
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands (January 5, 2011) Three deafening bangs interrupted the morning silence in the Cayman Islands, as the Valhalla pirate ship gave a three-canon salute to the Kittiwake, as it prepared to sink to the bottom of the ocean. After seven years of dedicated effort and planning, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, in collaboration with the Ministry and Department of Tourism, successfully laid the former submarine rescue ship in its final resting place off the Country’s famous Seven Mile Beach where it will provide both a snorkeling and dive attraction.
Ex-crew member, Jon Glatstein, a Signalman Petty officer 2nd Class who served on the ship when she was in active service was at the site to watch the sinking take place. “This is a bittersweet experience” he said, “but I am happy she has ended up as a dive attraction in a beautiful location where she will fascinate and be a pleasure to divers for many years to come.”
On Monday, January 3, 2011, 60 Government dignitaries, sponsors, media, and project supporters got up close and personal with the Kittiwake during an hour-long tour of the vessel, and took part in the dedication ceremony. Later that afternoon, over 300 members of the public took time out of their public holiday to go on a perimeter tour of the vessel, many expressing their excitement and new-found appreciation for the ship.
The Department of Environment and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s Marine Unit were present during the event, securing the perimeter around the vessel and observing the sinking, which took place in a designated Marine Park. Over 30 boats filled with excited onlookers watched the last dramatic 60 seconds, as the ship’s stern filled quickly with water and she disappeared beneath the surface. The vessel became fully submerged at 2:37 p.m. and sank towards the ocean floor, where she rested perfectly into position, thanks to the seamless planning and management by the project crew and their affiliates.
Project Manager, Nancy Easterbrook of Divetech said, “I jumped in the water as soon as she was under, and sure enough, she was sitting upright and exactly where she was supposed to be; A perfect beginning.”
Over 10,000 online viewers around the world watched via live-stream on the official Kittiwake website, while onlookers – including students from Grace Christian Academy and Cayman Prep Schools - watched from a variety of viewing points along the coast.
News of the sinking quickly spread worldwide as US cable news channel CNN, highlighted the historic event on their American Morning show to viewers throughout the Unites States. The story was also picked up by CBS News, NBC’s TODAY show, the Associated Press, the Washington Post online and a host of other print and broadcast media across the USA, Europe and Canada.
“I’m excited that the foreign media has taken such great interest in this historic event, said Shomari Scott, Director (Acting) of the Department of Tourism. He added that, “the sinking of the Kittiwake has been much anticipated and further enhances our world renowned dive product in the Cayman Islands by adding an even greater diversity to the fascinating sites we currently have. Sharing this with the rest of the world is now our main focus and we are delighted that bookings from divers wanting to be among the first to dive her are already pouring in.”
Once the final safety checks are completed the ex-USS Kittiwake dive site, located just off the western coast of Grand Cayman, will be open for divers to explore. To view photos and video of the Kittiwake, and for more information on how to book a dive, visit the official Kittiwake website at www.kittiwakecayman.com
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is the organization that manages and administers the Underwater Shipwreck Attraction of the Kittiwake.