The USS Cassin Young, which endured one of the last kamikaze attacks of World War II, has now survived more than a year of bureaucratic wrangling and will soon get repairs to put the 376-foot destroyer back in the water. The decision comes nearly two years after a leaking hull landed it high and dry in a Charlestown Navy Yard dry dock.
But the Navy, which owns the ship, and the National Park Service, which is responsible for maintaining it, have committed only to “a cost-sharing arrangement to accomplish the minimum repairs necessary to undock the ship,” leaving the destroyer’s long-term fate uncertain.
“This might be short-term good news,” said Steven Briand of Woburn, who coordinates several dozen volunteers, many of them veterans, who help maintain the ship and help with tours. “But if it’s just a simple fix, it’s just kicking the can down the road.”
Details about the costs and schedule for the repair job are still being finalized, said spokesmen for the Navy and Park Service.
“The good news is that we are saving the ship, and we are all happy about that,” said Sean Hennessey, spokesman for the National Park Service in Boston. Other sources said the work will begin this month.
Pressure on the Park Service and Navy to come up with a repair plan has been mounting, with the USS Constitution scheduled for a multiyear overhaul in the same dry dock now occupied by the destroyer. Work on the Constitution is scheduled to begin in October 2014, meaning the Cassin Young must be repaired and back in the water by then. According to a statement from the Navy, “It is anticipated that the Cassin Young will be returned to the dry dock . . . for continued public display” once the USS Constitution is back on the water.
The Cassin Young, which is named after a World War II Navy war hero, had been moored at the Charlestown pier for three decades until about two years ago, when leaks were discovered in the hull of the Fletcher-class destroyer. The ship was moved into Dry Dock 1 for repairs that were supposed to cost $3.3 million and take about six months.
The Park Service halted work about $2 million and four months into the job after hull damage was found to be much worse than anticipated.
“The ship can no longer stay afloat without additional repairs,” according to an engineering report written at the time. With neither the Park Service nor Navy able or willing to pay for extensive repairs — estimates ran from $3 million to $18 million — the Cassin Young was left in the dry dock.
Upcoming repairs are expected to cost significantly less than those estimates, but will be less extensive than originally proposed, leaving concerns that the Cassin Young could take on water again.
Hennessey declined to comment on what would happen if the ship needs urgent repairs while the dry dock is occupied. “That’s a hypothetical question,” he said.
Being a ship out of water may have increased the appeal of the Cassin Young. With its sharp bow rising in a prominent position between Old Ironsides and the USS Constitution Museum, the Cassin Young has become a popular attraction. More than 62,000 people toured the ship from January to May of this year, a 150 percent increase over the same period in 2011, Hennessey said.
Although one Park Service memo said the ship will be closed to the public until October, Hennessey said, “Our goal is to continue to interpret Cassin Young as we have for decades with the dedicated volunteers. If we have to do it pier-side, we will.”
The Cassin Young is far from the only aging gray hull ship badly in need of maintenance. Other old destroyers, including those in Fall River’s Battleship Cove, are also facing costly repairs with little funds available. Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, said the Navy’s decision to help fund repairs to the Cassin Young is a unique situation.
“The Navy still owns Cassin Young, so we are not concerned about precedent” to fund work on other former Navy ships now owned by museums and other nonprofit operators, he said.
Briand said the volunteers still hope for more complete repairs that could keep Cassin Young floating in Boston indefinitely. But he is pleased that some progress is being made.
“I think Cassin Young is going to be here for a long time, whether in water or in the dry dock,” he said.