What happens to a battleship docked in airtight “mothball” mode for 20-plus years?

It gathers itself a good thick coat of barnacles and bottomfeeders, according to Pacific Battleship Center, the company who's spent the last six months preparing the 1940s-era USS Iowa for its journey from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. You know — re-painting, re-planking, etc.

Once docked at the L.A. Harbor, the ship will become a maritime museum (and, no doubt, constant talking point for San Pedro politicians)…

… but before it's allowed into local waters, it must be stripped of all the unmentionables it picked up in NorCal.

“Anytime you take a ship into a new harbor, the particulate matter is cleaned off to protect any contamination of the harbor,” says David Oates, spokesman for Pacific Battleship Center.

Here's what the decontamination scene, beginning either today or tomorrow, will look like:

Back in her prime.; Credit: Wikipedia

Back in her prime.; Credit: Wikipedia

Protected by a 100-yard security zone enforced by two big Coast Guard boats, approximately eight commercial divers will set to scraping off the underside of the USS Iowa, currently anchored about six miles off the Los Angeles coast. While spooning the ship's century-old steel belly, the divers will use hardcore hull-cleaning tools (resembling these ones, from what Oates can tell us) to collect the residue.

And depending on how thick the muck — it could be pretty extreme, seeing as the ship has been going to seed in a Bay Area graveyard for, oh, two decades — the deep clean could take as long as four days. At which point several tugboats from Crowley Maritime Corp. will pull the beast on in, for all us battleship nerds to fawn over.

So what's under there, exactly?

“Particulate matter,” says Oates, “and a whole host of any sort of marine matter.”

(“Like barnacles and starfish??!!” we ask. Yes, he says, like barnacles and starfish.)

Because some of said sea life may have “different chemical compositions” than the stuff our harbor is used to, the Los Angeles Port has imposed strict cleaning rules for the incoming vessel. This will “prevent the introduction of anything that would be considered foreign.”

You'd think the green slimy waters of the L.A. Harbor would be immune to any old crazy-legged sea bug, but apparently this contamination stuff is serious business.

After scraping off the buildup — revealing the USS Iowa's gorgeous thick steel hull, a different story than the strong-grade aluminum hulls you see today — divers “will have to physically contain it and dispose of it much further out to sea,” says Oates. “It's a very methodical process.”

Once all this scary quarantine stuff is over, here's a preview of the battleship porn we'll be able to enjoy in our own backyard, at Berth 87:

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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