SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — A World War II ship that served for decades as a training vessel for Texas A&M University sea cadets has been sunk in the Gulf of Mexico in order to become an underwater habitat and diving destination.

The biggest challenge in repurposing the 473-foot, 7,000-ton Texas Clipper was dealing with polychlorinated biphenyls, man-made chemicals in such things as hydraulic fluids, plastics and adhesives that have been found to be hazardous to health. To comply with federal rules governing artificial reefs, more than 237,000 pounds of PCBs were removed from the ship before it went down.

Rectangular holes 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall were cut into the side of the ship to allow water to circulate and to give divers access. Hatches and doors have been welded shut or open to keep divers safe.

The ship is expected to become an attraction for divers and fishermen because undersea structures typically lure sealife. It's also expected to be an economic spark for the South Padre Island area.

"We are very very excited," Melissa Zamora, with the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. "Although the Clipper is out of sight, we'll make sure everyone knows."

The ship was decommissioned in the mid-1990s after almost 30 years as a classroom at sea for about 200 Texas A&M-Galveston students each summer.

Before that, it was the SS Excambion, carrying cargo and passengers between New York City and the Mediterranean from after World War II until 1958.

The ship began its service as the USS Queens, with its hull laid March 2, 1944, the 108th Texas Independence Day. It was commissioned late that year as a Navy troop transport ship and was among vessels in the Pacific at the battle of Iwo Jima. It then was used in the American occupation of Japan before being decommissioned in 1946.