Fleet tugs rescued hundreds of ships in combat, bad weather
Can we help save this one?
By Edward Lundquist
During a recent visit to the Hampton Roads Navy Museum (www.hrnm.navy.mil/) co-located at Nauticus (www.nauticus.org) in Norfolk, Va., I saw a World War II-vintage ocean-going “fleet tug.” My first ship was a fleet tug, and I can’t help but notice when one is in the same harbor that I’m in. In this case, it was at the end of the same pier I was on.
I walked down to get a closer look. There was a gentleman throwing breadcrumbs at the sea gulls. I walked closer to take in the familiar lines that only a fleet tug sailor would admire. The gentleman and I acknowledge each other, and I ask if I can come aboard. He says, “It depends. Are you a visitor or a guest?” I look at him and say, “Harry?” He says, “Ned?”
Harry Jaeger and I both served on fleet tugs—designated ATFs— and we were both involved in the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors (www.nafts.org), a group of 1,400 Sailors who served on tugs and salvage ships. I was the founder, and Harry had served as president. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years, but I was aware that Harry had become deeply involved with one particular ship that had become a cause.
Harry showed me around the ship, which brought back memories. It is very much in the middle of restoration, but the volunteers have done an amazing job bringing the ship back to life. There’s a long way to go, to be sure, but the progress to date is nothing short of amazing.
I enjoyed looking at the ship as much as from the similarities it had with my ship, USS Tawakoni (ATF 114), as it did from the small and not so small differences.
Q. What’s the organization you are involved with, and how did this organization come to take possession of the Zuni-Tamaroa?
Jaeger: A benefactor interested in maritime history and education purchased the former USS ZUNI/USCGC TAMAROA and gave guardianship to a group of enthusiasts who formed then Tamaroa Maritime Foundation.
I am the Director of Operations for the Zuni Maritime Foundation. We are a group of volunteer veterans and maritime enthusiasts who are in the process of restoring and preserving the former USS ZUNI/USCGC TAMAROA, once an ocean-going tug and medium endurance cutter. She was in service from 1943 until 1994 and has been under the guardianship of the ZMF since 2002.
Q. What is the purpose and long term objectives of the organization? How will the ship be used?
Jaeger: The Foundation’s mission is to provide a platform and program for maritime education while preserving and restoring the ship and the history of the ZUNI/TAMAROA and her crews.
The Zuni Maritime Foundation believes that the ZUNI/TAMAROA will enhance tourism and increase the overall appeal and commercial viability in its proposed homeport, the City of Portsmouth, VA.
Our future goal is to make the ship available for maritime training and education for student groups such as the NJROTC, Sea Cadets, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc. and to preserve the ship and its history (WWII service to include Iwo Jima (the last ship in the US that did) and Coast Guard service to include the actual rescues depicted in “The Perfect Storm.”) and to be a waterfront attraction.
Q. What’s the significance of the ship? Why is it worth saving?
Jaeger: The USS ZUNI’s performance during World War II earned her four Battle Stars and the nickname “The Mighty Z”. In just two years, she participated in four invasions and saved two cruisers, two transports and numerous other vessels. One episode from this period epitomizes the ZUNI’s Navy career. While providing support to the U. S. invasion of Iwo Jima, she intentionally ran aground alongside a disabled landing tank ship to hold the ship onto the beach so that its vital supplies of ammunition could be offloaded.
The ZUNI’s post-war record is equally distinguished. She retired from Naval service in 1946 and was re-commissioned as the USCGC TAMAROA, again earning numerous awards during 48 years of service. Over the years she enforced fishery laws, conducted numerous towing chores, combated drug trafficking, and saved many lives. An especially perilous rescue in 1991 earned the “TAM” worldwide recognition in the book and film “The Perfect Storm.”
Q. Where is the ship right now?
The ship is currently moored at Accurate Marine Environmental inc. in Portsmouth, VA. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Portsmouth under which, after the ship is repaired/restored to allow for visitors and future operations, we will become a permanent part of the Portsmouth historic waterfront.
Q. What work is required to restore the ship or make it ready for use?
Jaeger: A significant number of repairs are required before the ship can be permanently opened to the public: major shipyard work including replacing original equipment; repairs to radar, radio equipment, two main engines, and one ship’s service generator; hull and piping repairs, valve maintenance, stripping, and painting the complete hull, superstructure, stack and masts.
Q. What happens if the ship can’t find a home? What if the means are not available to restore or maintain the ship?
Jaeger: The benefactor will accept the responsibility of removing the vessel from its current location should the Zuni Maritime Foundation become defunct according to the Zuni Maritime Foundation’s business plan. Should the above not be probable, the following steps will be implemented:
The ship will be offered to several of the maritime museums in the United States
Offered for sale to a possible commercial operator
If within a reasonable time from there is no interest, the ship will be sold for scrap or donated to an offshore reef restoration organization and the collections of artifacts donated to the U. S. Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Neither the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard nor the U. S. Department of Homeland Security will be held responsible for the disposition of this vessel
Q. Who would you like to recognize for their support so far?
Jaeger: Accurate Marine Environment Inc., Jo-Kel Electric, Generation Refrigeration, Steeber and Father Co., Andersen Paint Co, Nauticus Museum, McAllister Towing Co, Skiff Creek Towing Co., Norfolk Towing Co., Dominion Marine, JEB Little Creek/Ft Story, National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors, USCG Training Center at Yorktown, VA., Historic Naval Ships Association, U. S. Navy Inactive Ships Program, Skipjack Nautical Wares and Marine Gallery.
Q. What’s next?
The next step in our restoration efforts is to have repairs and refurbishment completed. We have been attempting to secure funds through various grant and gift programs, but have not had any luck in doing so. We are doing our level best to get through these tough economic times, but we keep coming up short in the resource and now in the idea department. We are sure there are organizations who might like to or be able to help, but have not identified them as of yet.
Q. What are your urgent needs now, and your long term needs?
Jaeger: Raise enough money to pay for monthly expenses, current and future towing charges. Set up a financial escrow account for future shipyard work via grants and fund raisers.
Q. How can people help?
Jaeger: People can volunteer to help with ship restoration projects and housekeeping tasks. They can volunteer to become training instructors, docents, and/or tour guides. Become a member of the Zuni Maritime Foundation and/or make a tax deductable donation to the Foundation.
Please visit our website at www.zunitamaroa.org and see what we are all about. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Captain Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a principal science writer for MCR Federal LLC. His first ship was the USS Tawakoni (ATF 114). He is the founder of the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors (www.NAFTS.org).