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USNS H H Hess (T-AGS 38).
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Class: H H HESS (AGS 38)
Design: MA C4-S-1s
Displacement (tons): 13,520 light, 21,250 full
Dimensions (feet): 563.7' oa, 528' pp x 76' max x 31.5' load
Armament: none
Accommodations: 47 civilian, 75 Navy technicians
Speed (kts.): 21
Propulsion (HP): 19,250
Machinery: Geared steam turbines, 2 boilers (600psi), 1 screw

38H H HESS3 Mar 1977National Steel, San Diego10 Aug 196330 May 196416 Jan 1978

AGSNameTDecomm/CustStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
38H H HESST21[5] Feb 199228 Jul 19926 Jan 1993MA/T14 Jan 2011/D

Class Notes:
In 1975, after conducting deep ocean surveys since 1958, USNS Michelson was declared unfit for sea and taken out of service. The reasons for this are obscure but it's likely the ship failed a Coast Guard inspection of the hull. The ship's mechanical systems could be repaired or replaced but the hull's integrity was another matter. Michelson had experienced cracks in the deck plating during the mid-1960s. See https://surveyship.blogspot.com/2020/11/michelsons-successor.html

Hess replaced USNS Michelson T-AGS 23, which was declared unfit for sea by the USCG ca. 1975 while in port in Japan. Much of Michelson's oceanographic research equipment and her embarked Oceanographic Unit Three were transferred to Hess. Alterations resulting from the conversion were largely internal and below the waterline, and outwardly the vessel appeared little changed. The ship’s new role was deep ocean research. She would stay at sea for as long as 34 days, charting the ocean’s topography and other features using multi-beam sonar. Much of this work was done in support of the Trident Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Program. She conducted this work for nearly 20 years. She was named for the geologist Harry Hammond Hess.

The break-bulk cargo liner Washington Mail (later Equality State, ACS ##) was constructed in 1960–61 for for the American Mail Line, Ltd. It was the first of three identical ships designed to transport general cargo in subsidized liner service between ports in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the Far East. It was lengthened and converted into a container ship in 1971. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) purchased the vessel in 1987 and converted it into an auxiliary crane ship for use in MARAD’s Ready Reserve Force (RRF). Washington Mail’s sister ships included Japan Mail (now Diamond State) and Philippine Mail (later American Banker, now scrapped), both completed in 1962.

American Mail Line ordered two additional ships of substantially similar design, Oregon Mail and Canada Mail, in December 1962; they were completed in 1964 and 1965 respectively. [Possibly designated C4-S-1sa.] Oregon Mail was similarly lengthened and converted in 1972; in 1987 it was sold to a private company and converted into an offshore fish processing vessel. Named Ocean Phoenix, the vessel is still in service at the time of writing. Canada Mail was not converted into a containership; instead it was acquired by MARAD in 1974 and converted into an Oceanographic Research Vessel for the U.S. Navy. Renamed H.H. Hess, the vessel served until 1993 and has since been scrapped.

Washington Mail and its sisters were designed by the J. J. Henry Company of New York and Philadelphia. This firm also supervised the vessels’ construction at the Los Angeles Division of the Todd Shipyards Corporation in San Pedro, California. The design, designated C4-S-1s by MARAD, was an adaptation of the Mariner cargo ship design (C4-S-1a) developed in the early 1950s. It employed the same overall dimensions and horsepower as the Mariner but was modified to suit the requirements of American Mail Line’s Pacific cargo service. These modifications included an extended forecastle deck with flaring bulwarks to deflect water in higher sea states and bipod cargo masts in place of kingposts. A. Baker Barnhart Associates of New York designed the interiors of the accommodation spaces.

Ship Notes:
38H H HESS154(ex-CANADA MAIL, compl. 12 Mar 1965, O/N 297570). Built for American Mail Line, traded in to MA 18 Apr 1974. Custody from MA to MSTS 21 Jul 1975, to remain in NDRF until start of conversion ca. 1 Aug 1975. Classified T-AGS 38 and renamed H H HESS by SECNAVNOTE 5030 OF 26 Nov 1976, probably effective 1 Nov 1976. Acquired (title) and withdrawn from NDRF 3 Mar 1977. [Also reported as acq. 9 Jul 1976, not VSC] Deliv. and IS 16 Jan 1978. To MA custody in JRRF 21 Feb 1992. When title transferred to MA in January 1993 after NAVSEA stripping she was a candidate to replace APA 21 as California training ship GOLDEN BEAR. She departed the JRRF 15 Nov 1993 and moved to the SBRF but ex-AGS 39 became available and was selected instead. MAURY (T-AGS 39) became the third GOLDEN BEAR on 4 May 1996. H H HESS departed SBRF for Brownsville 14 Jan 2011 under contract with ESCO Marine. BU complete 1 Sep 2011.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 26 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Sources: DB, Maroon, NVR, VSC