State: No exorcism for Coney Creek ‘ghost ships’

Coney Island Creek is home to a flotilla of abandoned ships.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

The ghost ships of Coney Island Creek could be haunting us forever.

A half-dozen abandoned barges, boats, and even a semi-submerged submarine will remain haunting fixtures of the creek that separates Coney Island from the mainland — possibly for years to come — because their owners are nowhere to be found, and the state agency tasked with cleaning the waterway refuses to remove them.

The city Department of Environmental Protection said policing the creek was the state’s responsibility, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation says it won’t tow the broken-down ships away.

“Boat owners are responsible for properly disposing of their vessels,” Department of Environmental Conservation Tom Panzone said.

Panzone said the state would assist in removing the relics if the owners request it, but so far no one has asked for the state’s help.

That may be because the captains of these vessels are long dead: some of the barges found decaying in the creek were used to transport landfill to Bensonhurst in the early 1960s so the city could build Calvert Vaux Park. The owners of those barges, private contractors hired by the city, left them there to rot when the project was completed, said Coney Island historian Charles Denson, who is writing a book on the tributary.

For decades, the polluted creek became a convenient dumping ground for unwanted ships — such as the submarine Questar 1 which was built in a former Coney Island shipyard but ultimately went unused, Denson explained.

“People just brought their boats there, tied them up and left them [to rot],” he said, adding that tracking down the culprits a half-century later might be next to impossible.

News of the Creek’s watery phantoms still surprise some residents.

“I didn’t even know they were there!” said Jonathan Salazar, who frequents the park that abuts the creek.

Some say the rotting ships make the creek unique.

“The boats add to the history of the area,” said Ken Bowers. “They might as well stay there forever.”

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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