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BREMERTON The USS Independence soon will become the third inactive aircraft carrier in 2 ½ years to be towed away and dismantled. Final preparations are being made for a mid-March departure from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard's Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Navy spokeswoman Colleen O'Rourke said Monday. The exact date hasn't been set. The Indy, farthest south of the ships, will follow the USS Constellation, which left in August 2014, and the USS Ranger, which left in March 2015. The USS Kitty Hawk will be the only remaining inactive carrier. The Navy is holding it in reserve status until the USS Gerald R. Ford enters service. The Navy awarded a $6 million contract in August to International Shipbreaking to tow the Independence to Brownsville, Texas, and dismantle it. The company only received a penny and the value of the scrap metal for the Ranger. It's getting more this time because the price for metals is down. The 16,000-mile tow around South America usually takes 4 ½ months as the aircraft carriers are too large to fit through the Panama Canal. Using a towing ship instead of a tug this time is expected to cut the time to about two months. International Shipbreaking Chief Operating Officer Robert Berry originally expected to embark in November, after a crew spent a couple of months installing towing gear and an alarm system to alert the tug captain if the ship takes on water, and give the carrier a complete inspection to make sure it's safe for towing. As part of the preparations for the tow, Navy divers scraped marine growth from the carrier's hull to comply with rules limiting the spread of invasive species. The Squamish Tribe, Washington Environmental Council and Puget Soundkeeper believed they were releasing toxic levels of copper-based paint into Sinclair Inlet and sued. The Independence was commissioned Jan. 10, 1959, and decommissioned Sept. 30, 1998, in Bremerton, the oldest active Navy ship. The 1,070-foot-long, 60,000-ton vessel was the fourth and final of the Forrestal class. It made one tour in 1965 off the coast of Vietnam, carried out airstrikes against Syrian forces during the Lebanese Civil War and operated over southern Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone during Operation Southern Watch. The Independence was heavily stripped to support the active carrier fleet, limiting its potential as a museum ship.'.
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