Baja California has laid the foundation for its first artificial reef by sinking an old Navy patrol boat, a Uribe 121 on Saturday, November 21. The ship was sunk about 30 miles south of the United States border, off the coast near Rosario, and was the culmination of eight years of planning and preparation. It is an occasion that is raising hopes for the creation of a diving-oriented tourism sector in the state. Francisco Ussel, a Tijuana restaurateur and avid scuba diver, spearheaded the $600,000 effort
Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid and Mexican Navy Admiral Victor Uribe Arevalo joined dozens of passengers gathered at the site to witness the sinking from the decks of two Navy vessels. On shore, hundreds of spectators set up chairs by the coastal road, parked on giant sand dunes, and cheered from hotels and restaurant tables overlooking the Pacific Ocean south of downtown Rosarito Beach.
The Uribe-class ship was an offshore patrol vessel used by the Mexican Navy. The class was developed by the Spanish company Empresa Nacional Bazán in 1982. It is a multi-role patrol craft with twin funnels and a helicopter deck with a 40 mm L70 DP gun. Ships of the Uribe class were the first vessels of the Mexican Navy able to operate on board helicopters.
The sunken Uribe 121 is intended to draw tourists to the Rosarito area during off-peak seasons, from fall through spring, when conditions for Baja California scuba diving are best because of clear visibility and warmer water. Mexican officials are hoping that the artificial reef will attract about 40,000 scuba divers a year, and bring in $3 million in annual revenue from spending at hotels, restaurants and other area businesses. They expect many of these visitors to come from California.
“We want tourism sites of high cultural and economic value, to benefit our residents,” said Baja California Governor Francisco Vega, who was at the sinking event on Saturday alongside other Mexican officials.
The ship now sits in the Pacific Ocean at about 90 feet deep. In the coming months, a natural marine habitat will form in and around it, a new dwelling for plankton, algae, fish, other crevice-seeking sea creatures and their predators.
The Uribe 121 sinking is the first step toward creating a large Rosarito Marine Park, with underwater sculptures and a ship graveyard that will include three more vessels, officials said.