MOREHEAD CITY – The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will memorialize former Artificial Reef Coordinator Jim Francesconi by sinking two ships in his honor next week. Francesconi, who began working for the division in 1987, headed the Artificial Reef Program for 14 years before losing a battle with leukemia on July 18, 2014.
The division has contracted to sink the vessels on Atlantic Beach Reef (AR 330), off Beaufort Inlet. This could occur as early as Monday, weather permitting.
The largest vessel, a 108-foot retired U.S. Army tugboat, has been renamed the James J. Francesconi and adorned with his name in steel letters on the forward portion of the wheel house. The second vessel, The Tramp, is a 65-foot retired New York Harbor tugboat, which will be sunk in-line with, and tethered to, the James J Francesconi.
The vessels will be reefed near the northwest corner of the reef site in approximately 63 feet of water. Once settled, the vessels will be oriented in a northeast-southwest fashion. In accordance with Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Corps of Engineers regulations, the vessels have been cleaned of environmental pollutants and will have no impact on navigational clearance.
Francesconi’s efforts for the division resulted in hundreds of enhancements to artificial reefs from the Outer Banks to Long Bay, including the creation of the New River Reef (AR-398) near Jacksonville, the Jim Knight Reef (AR-430) near Oak Island and the Bob Black Reef (AR-400) near Frying Pan Tower. He also oversaw the sinking of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter SPAR, the Tug Titan, the Captain Greg Mickey, the Tug Pawtucket, the Admiral Charlie, and two U.S. Coast Guard Falcon aircraft.
Following Francesconi’s death, several diving and fishing organizations began a grass roots effort to raise money for a ship to sink in his name. Donations came in from the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association ($13,993), the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament ($7,000), the Eastern Carolina Artificial Reef Association ($1,650) and a GoFundMe site ($11,223.97) that included large donations from the Scherle Family, the Francesconi Family, Rum Runner Dive Shop, Olympus Dive Center and the Gilman Corporation.
Additional funding came from the sale of SCUBA license plates ($77,790) and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Conservation Fund ($6,997).
In all, $118,653.97 was raised for the project, which has an estimated price tag of approximately $117,000.
Eternal Reefs Inc. donated two Eternal Reef Balls and commemorative plaques, which will be mounted to the deck of the James J. Francesconi vessel.
The division has limited vessel space available for news media wishing to cover the event. Media representatives should contact Patricia Smith, public information officer for the division, at 252-808-8025 by noon Friday, April 29 for details. News media will be selected on a first-come, first-serve basis.
For safety, private vessels near the site will be asked to keep 300 feet back from the operation.
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