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Dive community marks 20 years since intentional, initially botched, sinking of Navy ship off Keys

In this Sunday, May 15, 2022, divers swim near the bow of the retired Naval Landing Ship Dock Spiegel Grove, sunk 20 years earlier, six miles off Key Largo, Fla., to become an artificial reef. The vessel's storied past is to be celebrated May 17, 2022, the 20th anniversary of the sinking, with an event at a local cultural center that features key individuals reminiscing about the project.
Frazier Nivens
/
Florida Keys News Bureau via AP
In this Sunday, May 15, 2022, divers swim near the bow of the retired Naval Landing Ship Dock Spiegel Grove, sunk 20 years earlier, six miles off Key Largo, Fla., to become an artificial reef. The vessel's storied past is to be celebrated May 17, 2022, the 20th anniversary of the sinking, with an event at a local cultural center that features key individuals reminiscing about the project.

The 20th anniversary of the storied intentional sinking of a former Naval ship to become an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is being celebrated Tuesday in Key Largo.

The 510-foot-long (155-meter-long) Spiegel Grove earned international notoriety when it sank prematurely May 17, 2002, and landed with its upside-down bow protruding above the ocean’s surface about 6 miles (10 kilometers) off Key Largo. A massive remediation effort began, resulting in the former Landing Ship Dock being fully sunk on its starboard side June 10, 2002.

Three years later, strong currents and waves generated from Hurricane Dennis when it was east of Cuba pushed the ship into the intended upright position on the ocean bottom about 130 feet (40 meters) below the surface.

“Ultimately, the Spiegel Grove is a story that Hollywood would never have been able to script in a million years,” said Rob Bleser, a Key Largo dive operator and the vessel’s sinking project manager.

Bleser and other key individuals are gathering Tuesday evening at a local cultural center for a reception and panel discussion on the fascinating events surrounding the ship.

On Sunday, divers affixed a commemorative plaque to the Spiegel Grove, sponsored by a group of Navy veterans who had served on it, that recognized the multimillion-dollar project’s supporter, as well as military personnel who were stationed on the ship commissioned in 1956.

South Carolina resident Karen Berrios trained specifically as an advanced diver to experience the former military vessel on which both her late father, William Py, and uncle, Joseph Py, served during the 1980s Cold War era. She helped install the plaque that bears her family members’ names.

In this Sunday, May 15, 2022, Karen Berrios, right, watches Jon Hazelbaker install a commemorative plaque on the Spiegel Grove. Installation of the plaque was one of several activities that are being staged to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking. Barrios' father and uncle served on the Spiegel Grove.
Frazier Nivens
/
Florida Keys News Bureau via AP
In this Sunday, May 15, 2022, Karen Berrios, right, watches Jon Hazelbaker install a commemorative plaque on the Spiegel Grove. Installation of the plaque was one of several activities that are being staged to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking. Barrios' father and uncle served on the Spiegel Grove.

“So, when I went down, I was just trying to imagine myself kinda in my dad’s footsteps looking around,” Berrios said. “Did he step here at one point of time, just like I am right today?”

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