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The USS Intrepid is pulled from its berth in New York on Tuesday. The carrier, which was opened in 1982 as a museum, is going to nearby Bayonne, N.J., for a two-year $60-million overhaul. ((Seth Wenig/Associated Press))

A month after a failed attempt to move the USS Intrepid, the historic aircraft carrier was freed Tuesday from the Hudson River anchorage where it had sat for nearly a quarter of a century.

"This old baby is moving!" a joyous Intrepid Foundation president Bill White said aboard the vessel, which serves as the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

Some crew members cried and gave each other high-fives and hugs. Onlookers ashore cheered.

After considerable effort, the aircraft carrier inched haltingly away from its anchorage. Finally, it began moving at aboutthree tofour knots, its pier growing more and more distant.

"Move, baby; move, baby!" the crew and passengers yelled. Then, "We did it, we did it!"

In the previous attempt, thick mud had proved too strong for six "tractor tugs" exerting about 30,000 horsepower. A battle occurred this time, too— the blue water was churned dark brown as tugboats strained to haul the giant vessel away from its longtime home.

"If she doesn't move, we are going to jump in and push her," a former crew member, 84-year-old Joe Kobert, said on the Intrepid's deck before the behemoth began to move.

'If she doesn't move, we are going to jump in and push her.' -Joe Kobert, former crew member

The smaller boats moved the ship stern first into the centre of the Hudson River, then nudged the bow until it was parallel with the shore and began heading downstream.

The aircraft carrier-turned-museum was being towed, still backward, down the river toward New York Harbour for an eight-kilometre trip to a shipyard in Bayonne, N.J., where it will undergo renovations.

As the Intrepid passedGround Zero, where theWorld Trade Center stood until the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, about 20 former crewmen unfurled a 15-by-27-metre American flag and stood in a silent tribute.

Three weeks of dredging removed nearly 40,000 cubic yards of muck from beneath the ship and around its four giant screws. Based on an assessment by military engineers and tugboat operators, officials said they expected a smooth departure for the 64-year-old Second World Warship.

First try ends in defeat

In the first attempt to move the vessel on Nov. 6, the 36,000-ton carrier budged only a few metres before the propellers dug into the bottom, the tide dropped, and the mission was scrubbed.

Plans for a second effort seemed almost like a stealth version of the first, without the ceremonial trappings.

"I don't know how moving an aircraft carrier around in New York could ever be low-key, but we had the celebratory event the first time and we are not having that again,"White said.

The Intrepid survived five Japanese kamikaze suicide plane attacks and lost 270 crew members in the last two years of the Pacific war. It later served off Korea and Vietnam and as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts.

Decommissioned in the late 1970s, it was destined for the salvage yard when rescued by New York developer Zachary Fisher, who transformed it into a floating military and space museum that opened in 1982. In recent years it has drawn upwards of 700,000 visitors a year.

Intrepid officials said the $60-million US overhaul, lasting up to two years, would include stem-to-stern "refurbishment and renovation" to repair deterioration and open up areas long closedto the public.

The ship's exhibits were put in storage, and most of its 20-plus vintage warplanes were shrink-wrapped for protection during the refit.