GSF Explorer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
USNS Glomar Explorer (T-AG-193).jpg
Name: GSF Explorer
Owner: Transocean
Operator: Transocean
Port of registry: Vanuatu, Port Vila
Cost: $350 million +
Laid down: 1971
Launched: 4 November 1972
Completed: 31 July 1998
Acquired: 2010
Status: Scrapped
Notes: .[1][2]
United States
Name: Hughes Glomar Explorer
Namesake: Howard Hughes
Builder: Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.
Launched: 4 November 1972
In service: 1 July 1973
Fate: Leased (not SAP)
Notes: [1]
General characteristics
Type: Drillship
Displacement: 50,500 long tons (51,310 t) light
Length: 619 ft (189 m)
Beam: 116 ft (35 m)
Draft: 38 ft (12 m)
  • Diesel-electric
  • 5 × Nordberg 16-cylinder diesel engines driving 4,160 V AC generators turning 6 × 2,200 hp (1.6 MW) DC shaft motors, twin shafts
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 160
Notes: [1]

GSF Explorer, formerly USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer (T-AG-193), was a deep-sea drillship platform initially built for the United States Central Intelligence Agency Special Activities Division secret operation Project Azorian to recover the sunken Soviet submarine K-129, lost during April 1968.[3][4]

The cultural effect of Glomar Explorer is indicated by its reference by a number of books: The Ghost from the Grand Banks, a 1990 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke; Shock Wave by Clive Cussler; Charles Stross's novel, The Jennifer Morgue; and The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.


Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE), as the ship was named at the time, was built between 1973 and 1974, by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. for more than US$350 million at the direction of Howard Hughes for use by his company, Global Marine Development Inc.[5] This is equivalent to $1.68 billion in present-day terms.[6] It first began operation on 20 June 1974. Hughes told the media that the ship's purpose was to extract manganese nodules from the ocean floor. This marine geology cover story became surprisingly influential, causing many others to examine the idea. But in sworn testimony in United States district court proceedings and in appearances before government agencies, Global Marine executives and others associated with Hughes Glomar Explorer project maintained unanimously that the ship could not be used for any economically viable ocean mineral operation.[citation needed]

Project Azorian[edit]

Main article: Project Azorian

Because K-129 sank in very deep water, at a depth of 3.0 miles (4.8 km), located 1,560 miles (2,510 km) NW of Hawaii,[7] a large ship was required for the recovery operation. Such a vessel would be detected easily by Soviet vessels, which might then interfere with the operation, so an elaborate cover story was developed. The CIA contacted Hughes, who agreed to assist.[8]

While the ship did recover during 1974 a portion of K-129, a mechanical failure in the grapple caused two-thirds of the recovered section to break off during recovery.[9] This lost section is said to have held many of the most sought items, including the code book and nuclear missiles. It was subsequently reported two nuclear-tipped torpedoes and some cryptographic machines were recovered, along with the bodies of six Soviet submariners, who were given a formal, filmed burial at sea.[10]

The operation became public during February 1975 when the Los Angeles Times published a story about "Project Jennifer", followed by news stories with additional details in other publications, including The New York Times. The CIA, wanting neither to confirm nor deny the story, issued the Glomar response, which set the precedent for subsequent responses to Freedom of Information Act requests.[11] The true name of the project was not known publicly to be Project Azorian until 2010.

The publication Red Star Rogue (2005) by Kenneth Sewell makes the claim "Project Jennifer" recovered virtually all of K-129 from the ocean floor.[12][13] Sewell states, "[D]espite an elaborate cover-up and the eventual claim that Project Jennifer had been a failure, most of K-129 and the remains of the crew were, in fact, raised from the bottom of the Pacific and brought into the Glomar Explorer".[N 1] A subsequent movie and book by Michael White and Norman Polmar revealed testimony from on-site crewmen as well as B&W video of the actual recovery operation. These sources indicate that only the forward 38 feet of the submarine were recovered.

After Project Azorian[edit]


Glomar Explorer mothballed in Suisun Bay, California, during June 1993.

While the ship had an enormous lifting capacity, there was little interest in operating the vessel because of her great cost. From March to June 1976, the General Services Administration (GSA) published advertisements inviting businesses to submit proposals for leasing the ship.[15] By the end of four months, GSA had received a total of seven bids, including a US$2 million offer submitted by a Lincoln, Nebraska college student, and a US$1.98 million offer from a man who said he planned to seek a government contract to salvage the nuclear reactors of two United States submarines. These are equivalent to $8.33 million and $8.25 million in present-day terms, respectively.[6] The Lockheed Missile and Space Company submitted a US$3 million, two-year lease proposal contingent upon the company's ability to secure financing. GSA had already extended the bid deadline twice to allow Lockheed to find financial backers for its project without success and the agency concluded there was no reason to believe this would change during the near future.

Although the scientific community rallied to the defense of Hughes Glomar Explorer, urging the president to maintain the ship as a national asset, no agency or department of the government wanted to assume the maintenance and operating cost.[16] Subsequently, during September 1976, the GSA transferred Hughes Glomar Explorer to the Navy for storage, and during January 1977, after it was prepared for dry docking at a cost of more than two million dollars, the ship became part of the Navy's Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet.[17]

Lease, sale and current status[edit]

During September 1978, Ocean Minerals Company consortium of Mountain View, California announced it had leased Hughes Glomar Explorer and that during November would begin testing a prototype deepsea mining system in the Pacific Ocean. The consortium included subsidiaries of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, Royal Dutch Shell, and Boskalis Westminster Group NV of the Netherlands. Another partner, and the prime contractor, was the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company.

During 1997, the ship was taken to Atlantic Marine's Mobile, Alabama shipyard for modifications that converted it to a dynamically-positioned deep sea drilling ship, capable of drilling in waters of 7,500 feet (2,300 m) and, with some modification, up to 11,500 feet (3,500 m), which is 2,000 feet (610 m) deeper than any other existing rig. The conversion cost more than $180 million US and was completed during the first quarter of 1998. This is equivalent to $262 million in present-day terms.[6]

The conversion of the vessel from 1996-1998 was the start of a 30-year lease from the U.S. Navy to Global Marine Drilling at a cost of US$1 million per year. Global Marine merged with Santa Fe International Corporation during 2001 to become GlobalSantaFe Corporation, which merged with Transocean Inc. during November 2007 and operates the vessel as GSF Explorer.

During 2010, Transocean acquired the vessel in return for a US$15 million cash payment.[18]

The rig was reflagged from Houston, US to Port Vila, Vanuatu during the 3rd quarter of 2013.[19]

Transocean announced during April 2015 that the ship would be scrapped.[20]

The World Ship Society November 2015 Magazine states that the Ship had arrived at the Chinese breakers at Zhoushan, Zhejiang, on 5 June 2015.[2]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Minutes of the Sixth Plenary Session, USRJC, Moscow, 31 August 1993.[14]


  1. ^ a b c "ABS Record: GSF Explorer." American Bureau of Shipping, 2010. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b [1]Journal of the World Ship Society Volume 69, No 11, November 2015 Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  3. ^ Burleson 1997, p. 52.
  4. ^ "Mysteries of the Deep: Raising Sunken Ships: The Glomar Explorer." Scientific American Frontiers (PBS), p. 2. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  5. ^ Snieckus, Darius. "...and another thing... An offshore Hughes who... " OilOnline, 1 November 2001. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016. 
  7. ^ GWU National Security Archive
  8. ^ Phelan, James. "An Easy Burglary Led to the Disclosure of Hughes-C.I.A. Plan to Salvage Soviet Sub". The New York Times, 27 March 1975, p. 18.
  9. ^ Sontag et al. 1998, p. 196.
  10. ^ Sontag et al. 1998, p. 277.
  11. ^ "Neither Confirm Nor Deny". Radiolab. Radiolab, WNYC. 12 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Sewell 2005, pp. 128, 148.
  13. ^ Podvig 2001, p. 243.
  14. ^ Sewell 2005, pp. 131, 261.
  15. ^ "Notice of Availability for Donation of the Test Craft Ex-Sea Shadow (IX-529) and Hughes Mining Barge (HMB-1)." Federal Register, Volume 71, Number 178, 14 September 2006, p. 54276.
  16. ^ Toppan, Andrew. "The Hughes Glomar Explorer's Mission." Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  17. ^ Pike, John. "Project Jennifer: Hughes Glomar Explorer." Intelligence Resource Program via, 16 February 2010. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  18. ^ "Transocean 10Q SEC Filing on 4 August 2010." Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  19. ^ [2] Retrieved: 17 December 2013.
  20. ^ "Transocean’s new fleet status, scraps GSF Explorer"Offshore Engineer Retrieved: 17 April 2015.
  21. ^ Watson, Jim. "USGS.", 5 May 1999. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.


External links[edit]