From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
WWI Now: Daniel Basta on the "Ghost Fleet" of Mallows Bay
In August 19th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 136, host Theo Mayer interviewed Daniel J. Basta, Doughboy Foundation board member and accomplished scientist and diver. Mr. Basta shed light on the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, an armada of ships scuttled by the U.S. government in Maryland after the war. Today Mallows Bay is a National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area for wildlife and human recreation- and something that connects contemporary Americans to the Great War. Read on to discover this unique and powerful outdoor destination. The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: When America entered the war in 1917, the country was totally unprepared for prosecuting an overseas war at scale. Even before the US joined the war, the Shipping Act of 1916, signed by President Wilson, created a five member United States Shipping Board, the USSB, to create a subsidiary corporation to build ships. In fact, the US effectively nationalized the ship building industry. We needed tonnage fast. So under the Ship Building Board in 1917, they started to mass produce a fleet of cheap, small wooden steamers at about 3000 tons each, rather than larger, state-of-the-art, oil burning steel ships at 8000 tons. Well, that nationalized push to build ships and get our boys material over there did get a lot of ships built fast, but they weren't designed or built for the long term. So having served their purpose, or not even put into service, over 200 of them were scuttled and sunk right after the war.
A lot of this happened in a small bay on the Maryland side of the Potomac River in Charles County, Maryland. With the scuttled ships protruding partially out of the water, the area became known as the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay. It's considered the largest shipwreck graveyard in the Western Hemisphere, and has recently been designated as one of the most interesting National Marine Sanctuaries in the United States. Now this designation was the result of a large number of people who felt passionately that this heritage site should be a National Marine Sanctuary, including our next guest. Daniel J. Basta is a board member of the Doughboy Foundation and has also enjoyed a colorful and illustrious career, including as the Director of the National Marine Sanctuary System, which is within NOAA, the government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dan, welcome to the podcast.
Dan Basta: I'm happy to be here, Theo.