Farewell To A Ship - From All If You Sink It, They Will Come.

Posted: June 11, 1994

ATLANTIC CITY — There was a puff of green smoke, followed by a bang loud as fireworks, a huge fireball and black smoke, and the royal blue cocaine ship Blue Crown, with its masts and engines removed and streaks of rust running down its sides, slid under the waves 12 miles offshore yesterday.

There were witnesses.

The 200-foot ship slipped, stern first, into the Atlantic Ocean at the center of a flotilla of 60 or more pleasure boats, two military helicopters, a party boat loaded with schoolchildren on a fishing expedition, a huge speedboat filled with paying passengers, and a 100-foot casino cruise boat, on whose railing was crowded a bank of television cameras, backed up by dozens of news reporters.

If you want to call attention to something, sink a ship as part of New Jersey's artificial reef project. It's a great - if brief - show, perfect for film at 5.

Attention in this case was being called immediately to a manufacturer of legal intoxicants - the Coors Brewing Co. - whose long banners were strung on each side of the Blue Crown, a ship confiscated in 1991 off the New Jersey coast after it had delivered 10,771 pounds of illegal intoxicant.

Coors' banners drew attention to the artificial reef project, run by the state's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. The sunken ships create places for fish and other creatures to live on the otherwise sandy ocean bottom, boosting the fishing and sport diving industries.

The banners also mentioned the New Jersey Fresh Seafood Festival, held this weekend in Atlantic City's Gardner's Basin maritime park. The festival draws thousands of visitors each year to sample New Jersey seafood and visit educational marine exhibits, according to festival officials.

The festival and the Atlantic City Charter Boat Association chipped in $6,500 toward the reef project, and Coors contributed $10,000, according to a thick packet of literature provided by the festival.

About 70 passengers boarded the Black Whale III, which runs excursions from the Trump Castle Casino Resort, at 9 a.m. at Gardner's Basin, a redevelopment project near the city's northern tip.

Steaming due east on calm seas, the Black Whale joined a parade of boats, including Coast Guard vessels and marine police boats. At 10 a.m., they arrived where the Blue Crown was anchored in 90 feet of water.

The Panamanian-registered freighter's bow pointed south, and the ship rolled gently, with an Army tugboat tied at its side.

Explosives experts from the New Jersey State Police and the Atlantic City Police Department worked inside the ship, setting plastic explosives near the bottom of the ship, which had been cleaned of all pollutants.

Overhead, two large green helicopters from the Army Reserve circled. In the open side doors of one chopper sat six Army divers, facing out, their naked shins exposed to the sun.

Blair Learn, a public relations consultant representing the festival, had instructed reporters and film crews riding on the Black Whale where to stand for the best view. He talked about "visuals." He said special explosives, not necessary for scuttling the Blue Crown, had been planned, although he did not know if they would be used.

When the Black Whale had circled for an hour, a cloud of thick, kelly-green smoke billowed from the foredeck of the Blue Cloud. Some minutes later, the tugboat, with all hands aboard, backed away from the freighter.

Now all the boats in the flotilla were idling, occasionally buffeted by the prop wash of the helicopters as they passed overhead, just above the masts of several sailboats. The freighter, whose seacocks had been opened, had started to squat in the sea when the sound of the explosives reported across the water, and a small puff of gray smoke rose from the ship's hold. The Blue Crown began sinking more quickly.

The final pyrotechnics - an orange ball of flame rimmed with black smoke that consumed the entire superstructure of the ship - exploded just as the whole rear of the Blue Crown fell underwater, leaving only the point of the bow momentarily at the surface.

As the bow disappeared into a plume of white foam, the helicopter with the Army divers advanced from the east, moving just over the water between the pleasure craft. The divers were there to check the ship when it hit the ocean floor, and to retrieve the Coors banners, which Learn had said would be considered pollution if left behind.

The chopper passed to the west of the remnants of the foam plume, and the divers dropped from the aircraft's runners, into the sea.

The cameras rolled. You saw it last night on TV.

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