POMPANO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials hope that a former tanker that was sunk Saturday off the state’s southern coast will become a major scuba diving attraction — and one of the biggest contributions to the state’s artificial reef system.
The aquatic attraction named Lady Luck became the newest centerpiece of Shipwreck Park, a series of 16 underwater dive wrecks full of marine life.
“There are lots of ships that are sunk,” said Tom DiGiorgio, the chairman of the Economic Development Council of Pompano Beach. “But this will be the only one that is truly interactive and with artwork on it.”
As one of the most accessible major dive sites in the nation, Lady Luck is expected to lure approximately 35,000 divers each year. DiGiorgio said that after a 10-year search for the right vessel, Pompano Beach has finally found an economic engine for Florida’s tourism industry.
“It’s going to help the hotels, the restaurants and the ancillary effect is going to ripple out for years to come,” said DiGiorgio.
The 324-foot tanker was built in 1967 and was towed from New York to Florida earlier this year. It was lowered off Pompano Beach on Saturday afternoon.
It features three larger-than-life shark statues, a life-sized mermaid and an interactive art exhibit that will display locally produced underwater artwork.
Artist Dennis MacDonald says he hopes his design will attract tourists and marine life — and will contribute to Florida’s artificial reef system.
Divers have the ability to swim up to card-slinging octopuses, fake slot machines and poker tables immediately after the ship was sunk.
Lady Luck includes 16 staterooms, a captain’s deck and an interactive art exhibit with a rotating gallery display of locally produced underwater artwork.
Shipwreck Park chairman Greg Harrison said that the funding for the creation of the artificial reef was split between the city of Pompano Beach and Pompano Beach Isle Casino. The attraction will be free for certified divers with their own boats.
Dennis MacDonald, the artist in charge of designing the underwater casino, said that with the help of about five people, including his wife, it took roughly two months to finish. MacDonald also said that some of the pieces used to create the slot machines were salvaged from inside of the tanker.
“As the ship was stripped, I took valves and springs,” said MacDonald. “It was kind of a nice rebirth and reutilization of general parts of the ship.”
Rob Wyre, the general manager of Pompano Beach Isle Casino and Raceway, was one of the people that oversaw the final preparation stages on Friday before the wreck sank. Holes were strategically cut into the wreck and pre-filled with water so that the artificial reef would only need a little more water to sink the next day.
Wyre also said that several ideas for the theme of the underwater attraction, such as a replica of Florida, were proposed but MacDonald thought that an underwater casino would be the best fit.
The wreck has the potential of becoming one of the biggest contributions to Florida’s artificial reef system. It will allow for new coral growth by minimizing damage created by divers and marine life.
This story corrects paragraphs 1 and 6 to reflect that sinking has not taken place.