Watch as ‘Perfect Storm’ ship sinks at artificial reef off Cape May [video]

    A famed Navy and Coast Guard ship immortalized in the film and book “The Perfect Storm” is now on another mission after it was sunk Wednesday. 

    The 205-foot U.S. Coast Guard Guard Cutter Tamaroa is now sitting at the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Reef located 26 nautical miles southeast of Cape May. 

    Formerly the U.S. Navy fleet tug “Zuni,” Tamaroa has a storied history in its decades-long service, and it’ll now provide a habitat for a variety of marine life. 

    The reef, jointly managed by New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland and specifically for former military vessels, was established 10 years ago.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    How crews prepared and sunk the ship captured the above drone video of the sinking, carried out by Coleen Marine Inc. Crews deployed Tamaroa in water more than 120 feet deep after they removed patches from holes that were pre-cut into the hull.

    (Click here to watch the sinking from another angle captured by

    According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to prepare for the sinking, crews in Norfolk, Virginia stripped the ship’s interior paneling and insulation and removed fuel and hydraulic fluids.

    Then, the federal Environmental Protection Agency approved the environmental tests conducted on the vessel, which met Coast Guard standards for sinking as an artificial reef. 

    A plan to make the ship a museum was scrapped in 2012 after inspections revealed structural problems with its hull. New Jersey officials say the work would have been “costly and unfeasible” due to the cutter’s advanced age.

    An expanded habitat for marine life

    Tamaroa will now serve marine life by joining numerous ships that now call the sea off New Jersey home. 

    The ships joins the former Army freighter and Navy support ship Shearwater, the minesweeper Gregory Poole, and the 563-foot destroyer U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford, the largest vessel ever deployed off the East Coast, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    The state holds permits for 13 artificial reefs in federal waters and two in state waters that encompass 25 square miles of ocean floor.

    Providing a habitat for a variety of marine organisms to grow along with food and habitat for fish and shellfish, the reefs are made of rocks, concrete and steel, and old ships and barges.

    “DEP studies have shown that these materials are colonized quickly with organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, blue crabs, and sea fans that attract smaller fish which, in turn, attract black sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, scup, lobster and other sought-after species,” a state news release issued last year says.

    Older vessels such as the Tamaroa are ideally suited for artificial reefs “because of all the voids and cavities in them below deck – they’re really the perfect sanctuary for fish,” said Delaware reef coordinator Jeff Tinsman in a state release.

    An illustrious history

    During the 1991 storm “Perfect Storm,” seas reached as high as 40 feet and winds at 80 knots, and Tamaroa was first called to rescue the three person crew of the 32-foot sailboat Satori that was traveling from New Hampshire to Bermuda.

    The cutter was then called to rescue the crew of a New York Air National Guard helicopter crew that had ditched into the ocean after running out of fuel during a similar rescue mission. The Tamaroa crew rescued four of the five air crewmen. 

    Prior to the 1991 rescues off Massachusetts, Tamaroa already had extensive history.

    Commissioned in 1943 and serving until 1994, the ship was originally the U.S. Navy’s Zuni, an ocean tug that earned four battle stars for service during World War II, according to the Coast Guard. 

    The vessel was then transferred to the Coast Guard in 1946 and named Tamaroa, following the tradition of naming cutters after Native American tribes. 

    The ship was stationed in New York City through 1985, conducting a variety of missions, including search and rescue operations and service along and off the Jersey Shore, according to Coast Guard history.

    In May 1950, the cutter was at the scene of a chemical explosion and fire on a pier along the Raritan Bay in South Amboy. Then in June 1956, the Tamaroa crew assisted in retrieving bodies and debris from a aircraft crash involving Venezuelan Airlines Super Constellation 32 miles off Asbury Park that killed 74.

    More than two years later in October 1958, the crew participated in a search and rescue operation after a New Jersey Air National Guard F-84 exploded in the air off Monmouth Beach. 

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal