The sinking of a ship to honor a man who led the state’s artificial reef program for 14 years has been delayed until this fall.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries had hoped to sink a ship named for Jim Francesconi this month, on the one-year anniversary of his death from leukemia at age 54. Francesconi led the state program that uses old bridges, discarded concrete pipes and scuttled ships to create places along the coast that attract fish and marine life.
But the ship the state planned to acquire, a 180-foot menhaden fishing trawler, is no longer available, the division announced Thursday. The state must find another one and arrange to have it thoroughly cleaned and prepared for sinking.
The fundraising for the project is complete, said Robert Purifoy, owner of Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City and one of the leaders of the effort.
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The project is expected to cost about $120,000, with about $70,000 coming from the state’s scuba diving license plate fund. Ships like the one the state plans to sink are popular with divers and fishermen alike, because they can sit up high off the bottom, creating places to explore and a more vertical habitat for marine life.
Other sources of money for the project include a $10,000 grant from a conservation fund administered by the Division of Marine Fisheries, $10,000 from the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, $20,000 from an anonymous donor and about $12,000 in numerous small donations through a gofundme.com account, Purifoy said.
“I think we’re done,” he said. “As soon as we know which vessel we’re sinking, then we’ll proceed on.”
There are 50 designated artificial reef sites in North Carolina – 42 off the coast and eight in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries. Some are littered with concrete objects designed and built to act as what are known as patch reefs, but many more are made of concrete culverts, roadbeds, bridges and ships.
The James J. Francesconi, as the ship will be re-named, will be scuttled on the Howard Chapin Reef, about 12 miles from Beaufort Inlet. It will lie near the wreck of the USS Indra, a 330-foot landing craft repair ship sunk on the reef site in 1992.