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USS Glomar Explorer (AG 193) laid up in Suisun Bay ca. 1977.

USS Glomar Explorer (AG 193) laid up in Suisun Bay ca. 1977.
The tops of her towers have been cut off and laid on deck.
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Design: Global Marine Inc. and Sun SB
Displacement (tons): 21,000 light (well closed and dry), 63,300 (well closed and flooded)
Dimensions (feet): 618.7' x 115.7' x 46'
Armament: none
Accommodations: 178
Speed (kts.): 12 max
Propulsion (HP): 13,200
Machinery: Diesel electric, 2 screws, plus automated dynamic positioning system.

193GLOMAR EXPLORER30 Sep 1976Sun SB, Chester--4 Nov 1972No

AGNameTDecomm/CustStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
193GLOMAR EXPLORER--19 Nov 200726 Mar 2010Navy sale--

Class Notes:
HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER was built as a "deep sea mining ship" with Global Marine Inc. listed as her owner on 24 Jul 1973. The 1977 American Bureau of Shipping Register showed Summa Corp (Hughes' company) as her registered owner under Global Marine, Inc. This was all cover for a clandestine CIA operation, Project AZORIAN, to raise part of the Soviet Project 629A (Golf-II class) diesel-powered ballistic missile submarine K 129 that sank in 16,500 feet of water on 8 March 1968. The primary target of the operation was the nuclear warhead thought to remain on an R-21 (SS-N-5) ballistic missile in its tube in the submarine's sail as well as cryptographic equipment. The ship was originally scheduled to be completed by 30 September 1972 for a lift attempt in 1973, but technical problems and the decision to widen the ship to achieve greater stability delayed her completion to July 1973. The salvage attempt took place in July and August 1974 but one of the grabbers on the capture vehicle failed and only the foremost 38 feet of the submarine (primarily the torpedo room) were recovered. Following a press exposure and a Soviet protest the decision was made in 1975 not to proceed with a second lift attempt and she was transferred to the Navy on 30 September 1976, renamed GLOMAR EXPLORER, and then laid up in the MARAD reserve fleet at Suisun Bay on 17 January 1977 with the tops of her lifting towers cut off and laid on deck.

In 1978 GLOMAR EXPLORER was leased (time chartered) to Global Marine Development Inc. for a (real) commercial mining enterprise. After being returned by MARAD to Navy custody on 1 June 1978 she was towed to the Bethlehem Steel shipyard at San Pedro (Long Beach) and fitted with a tethered, self-propelled mining vehicle to harvest seafloor minerals. The mining equipment was tested by Global Marine successfully at sea at the end of 1978 but the mining project was cancelled and the ship was returned by the Navy to MARAD on 25 April 1980 and again laid up in Suisun Bay.

In November 1996 the ship was withdrawn from the reserve fleet for conversion into a dynamically positioned deepwater drillship. In this reincarnation, the vessel was capable of drilling in depths up to 11,500 feet (3,500 meters). At the time, this was 2,000 feet (610 meters) deeper than any existing rig. The ship was first stripped of unneeded equipment in 1996 at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The conversion was then completed in two phases. The first, in Cascade General Shipyard in Portland, Oregon, saw the addition of 2,040 tons of steel to fill the moon pool and an overhaul of the vessel’s electrical, piping, ventilation and steering systems. The second phase of the conversion took place at Atlantic Marine’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard. Here the work included the fitting of drilling equipment including the derrick and the vessel’s azimuthing thrusters (11 thrusters capable of a combined 35,200 horsepower). The conversion was completed in 1998, and after extensive trials the GlobalSantaFe Corp. leased the ship from the Navy for 30 years for a fee of $1 million per year and renamed her GSF EXPLORER. GlobalSantaFe and Transocean merged in July 2007 and the ship became part of the Transocean fleet. The Navy sold her outright in March 2010, and in 2013 she was reflagged from Houston to Port Vila in Vanuatu. Two years later she went idle at Labuan after a fall in oil prices and Transocean decided to sell her to Chinese breakers. An engineer involved in her conversion stated that the ship "broke all the records for working at unimaginable depths and should be remembered as a technological phenomenon." He also stated that the ship was "decades ahead of its time and the pioneer of all modern drill ships."

Ship Notes:
193GLOMAR EXPLOREREx HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER, renamed 1978. To MA custody 17 Jan 1977. Withdrawn by Navy for operation 1 Jun 1978, returned to NDRF for Navy retention 25 Apr 1980. In the SBRF as a Navy mobilization asset from Jul 1984. Leased 2 Jul 1996 to Global Marine Drilling Co., Houston, TX, withdrawn from MA custody by the Navy 5 Nov 1996 and extensively altered for commercial use as the deep sea drilling ship GSF EXPLORER. Sold by the Navy in 2010 to the firm operating her. Arrived for scrapping at Zhoushan, China, on 5 June 2015.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 18 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Sources: Project AZORIAN, the CIA and the Raising of the K-129, by Norman Polmar and Michael White (Naval Institute Press, 2010). For her drilling career since 1996 see The Maritime Executive, https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/grand-finale-for-infamous-glomar-explorer-part-2__2