Ghost Ships


The American photographer Scott Haefner who is currently based in the San Francisco Bay area has produced a series of photographs documenting the current state of the Mothball Fleet.This fleet of surplus military vessels sits in the bay about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. Having been used to fight four wars, WWII, Korean, Vietnam and Iraq I, these vessels are now slowly decaying while the political impasse continues around disposal, decommissioning, environmental clean-up and history.

Having taken over a decade to reach their current state it is now estimated that it will take till 2017 until the final ship is towed away to be broken down and with it this fleet will be just a memory. One thing that might not get towed away though is over 20 tons of toxic debris including paint that these ships have shed into the sediments below them. This legacy is of ongoing concern to residents and environmentalists.

I think this work is greatly enhanced by the knowledge that all these images were taken by Mr. Haefner without permission. As described in his website here:

“Over a two-year period, several close friends and I gained unprecedented access to the decaying ships, spending several days at a time photographing, documenting, and even sleeping aboard them—often in the luxury of the captain’s quarters. Sneaking on-board required months of planning and coordination, and it involved taking significant risks. Of course, things did not always go as planned, but despite several close calls, we were successful in all of our attempts to infiltrate the ships while evading round-the-clock security patrols.”

So many projects seem to be made with permission. Photographers seem increasingly to need to be granted authority to make work especially in what are nominally public spaces. After photographing on two continents and seeing the increasing criminalisation and suspicion around picture taking it brings some hope that even without blessing excellent work can still be made.

To see more work by Scott Haefner visit his website at: