GSF Explorer

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Glomar Explorer
Name: USNS Glomar Explorer
Builder: Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.
Chester, Pennsylvania
Launched: 1 November 1972
In service: 1 July 1973
Identification: IMO number: 7233292
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: 46 ft (14 m)
Propulsion: 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)
Armament: None
Notes: (erroneously called Project Jennifer by the press),

GSF Explorer, formerly USNS Glomar Explorer (T-AG-193), is 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, that was lost in April 1968.[2][3]


The Hughes Glomar Explorer (HGE), as the ship was called at the time, was built between 1973 and 1974, by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. for more than US$350 million.[4] She set sail 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, spurring 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 the Hughes Glomar Explorer project unanimously maintained that the ship could not be used in any economically viable ocean mineral operation.

Project Azorian

Since the K-129 had sunk in very deep water, a large ship was required for the recovery operation. Such a vessel would easily be spotted by Soviet vessels, which might then interfere with the operation, so an elaborate cover story was developed. The CIA contacted the businessman Howard Hughes, who agreed to assist.[5]

While the ship did recover a portion of the vessel, a mechanical failure in the grapple caused two-thirds of the submarine to break off during recovery.[6] 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 that two nuclear-tipped torpedoes and some cryptographic machines were recovered, along with the bodies of six Soviet submariners, who were subsequently given a formal, filmed burial at sea.[7]

The operation became public in 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. However, the true name of the project was not publicly known to be Project Azorian until 2010.

Red Star Rogue makes the claim that "Project Jennifer" recovered virtually all of K-129 from the ocean floor[8]:243, and in fact "Despite 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".[9]

After Project Azorian


File:Glomar Explorer Susiun Bay CA.jpg
Glomar Explorer mothballed in Suisun Bay, California, in June 1993

While everyone admired the ship's enormous lifting capacity, it seemed no one was much interested in operating the vessel because of her staggering cost. From March to June 1976, the General Services Administration (GSA) published advertisements inviting businesses to submit proposals for leasing the ship. By the end of four months, GSA had received a total of seven bids, including a $2.00 offer submitted by a Lincoln, Nebraska college student, and a $1.98 offer from a man who said he planned to seek a government contract to salvage the nuclear reactors of two United States submarines. The Lockheed Missile and Space Company submitted a US$3 million, two-year lease proposal contingent upon the company's ability to secure financing. But the GSA had already extended the bid deadline twice to allow Lockheed to find financial backers for its project without success and the agency concluded that there was no reason to believe Lockheed would find the funds in the near future.

Although the scientific community rallied to the defense of the 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. So in September 1976, the GSA turned the Hughes Glomar Explorer over to the Navy for mothballing, and in January 1977, after she 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.


In September 1978, Ocean Minerals Company consortium of Mountain View, California announced that it had leased the Hughes Glomar Explorer and that in 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 Missile and Space Company.

In 1997, the ship was taken to Cascade General for modifications that converted her 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 over $180 million and was completed during the first quarter of 1998.

The conversion of the vessel in 1997 was the start of a 30-year lease from the U.S. Navy to Global Marine Drilling. Global Marine merged with Santa Fe International Corporation in 2001 to become GlobalSantaFe Corporation, which merged with Transocean Inc. in November 2007 and operates the vessel as the GSF Explorer.

The GSF Explorer is currently on hire to a consortium led by Marathon Oil, to drill offshore Indonesia until March 2012.[10]

The cultural impact of the Glomar Explorer is indicated by its appearance in a number of books: The Ghost from the Grand Banks, a 1990 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke; Shock Wave by Clive Cussler; and Charles Stross's novel, The Jennifer Morgue.

See also


  1. ABS Record
  2. Burleson, Clyde W. (1997). The Jennifer Project. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0890967644. 
  3. "Mysteries of the Deep: Raising Sunken Ships: The Glomar Explorer". PBS Scientific American Frontiers. p. 2. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  4. Darius Snieckus (1 November 2001). "and another thing ... An offshore Hughes who". OilOnline. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  5. Phelan, James. "An Easy Burglary Led to the Disclosure of Hughes-C.I.A. Plan to Salvage Soviet Sub"(fee). New York Times 27 March 1975, p. 18.
  6. Sontag and Drew, Blind Man's Bluff. New York: Public Affairs (1998), p.196
  7. Sontag, Sherry (1998). Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Harper. ISBN 0-06-103004-X.
  8. Sewell (2005) Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Center for Arms Control Studies, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, edited by Pavel Podvig
  9. Sewell (2005) Minutes of the Sixth Plenary Session, USRJC, Moscow, August 31, 1993
  10. Transocean Fleet Status Report January 2010
  11. Glomar Challenger (This Dynamic Earth, USGS

Further reading

  • Roger C. Dunham "Spy Sub - Top Secret Mission To The Bottom Of The Pacific"; Penguin Books, USA; New York, NY; 1996 ISBN 0-451-40797-0
  • Roy Varner and Wayne Collier "A Matter of Risk: The Incredible Inside Story of the CIA's Hughes Glomar Explorer Mission to Raise a Russian Submarine", 1978

External links

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