Home » Budget Industry » Former CIA Spy Ship Hughes Glomar Explorer Sold for Scrap

Former CIA Spy Ship Hughes Glomar Explorer Sold for Scrap

An undated photograph of the Hughes Glomar Explorer. US Navy Photo

An undated photograph of the Hughes Glomar Explorer. US Navy Photo

The owners of a ship used to execute one of the most world’s most complicated and expensive pieces of espionage have sold it for scrap.

GSF Explorer — previously dubbed the Hughes Glomar Explorer — was sold to an unknown buyer by Swiss drilling concern Transocean for scrap, according to a Thursday report in Reuters.

The scrapping of the 51,000 ton GSF Explorer — repurposed in the late 1990s as an offshore oil exploration platform — is a coda of what could arguably be one of the most elaborate intelligence gathering missions in U.S. history.

Built as Glomar Explorer by the CIA, the ship was purpose built to recover the remains of the almost 3,000-ton Soviet Golf II ballistic missile submarine K-129 which was lost at sea in 1968.

Under the cover of belonging to eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, the CIA undertook the covert operation Project Azorian to recover the boat’s code books and nuclear missiles.

The mission was only partially successful when the failure of the complex claw mechanism designed to bring the submarine to the surface failed and a section of the boat broke off during the ascent to the ship.

The CIA’s cover was pierced by a 1975 report in the Los Angeles Times that broke the story of the ship’s covert purpose.

USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer

USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer

Still, few details of what the crew of Glomar Explorer recovered have been disclosed by the CIA.

Following the disclosure the ship was part of the Navy’s mothball fleet until its conversion and use by commercial interests.

Transocean did neither disclose the buyer nor the location of the scrapping but said in an April fleet status report the ship would be held for sale resulting in a $100-120 million write-down for the company.

The sale is a further symptom of offshore oil rig sales by drilling companies as a result of the current trend of low oil prices.

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Categories: Budget Industry, News & Analysis, Surface Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • Ctrot

    That’s a sad end for a major player in a brilliant story.

  • NavySubNuke

    I wonder how many years – if ever – it will be until the mission files are declassified and released to the public. It would be interesting to find out how much of the submarine they actually recovered.

    • old guy

      I think Norm’s book spells it out well.

      • NavySubNuke

        The book is certainly well written – but I wouldn’t put it past the Navy to tell people it failed even if it didn’t just to make sure folks didn’t realize how much we got. Then again it is also possible it is totally accurate or even exaggerates how much we were able to get.
        I’d like to find out for sure someday.

  • Whelk

    The ship was over 40 years old. most don’t last that long.

  • Beomoose

    “Swiss” drilling concern Transocean. Yeah, Swiss since they decided they’d prefer to operate in a country that would protect them from being held liable for spills and other incidents. When they bought EXPLORER they were still a US company.

  • Jim Valle

    My understanding, perhaps a little vague at this point, is that they got samples of torpedoes, were able to analyze the steel used in the hull plating, examine pipework and welding quality, electrical cabling practices and incidental machinery contained in the portion of the sub that they did recover. The real question is was that really worth the cost of building this every elaborate ship given the sub was an obsolescent diesel boat?

    • Dave_TX

      What they recovered was of less importance than jerking the Soviets around.

  • Sailboater

    Heard rumors of video that documented the operation

  • Mike “Major Dad” Reisman Maj

    I was one of the medics on that ship.

    • TexasThicket

      Hello, I worked at Intermarine, a dummy company set up to handling purchasing, logistics, etc. One night somebody broke into the building by removing the metal siding. They got into one office, took a couple of typewriters, but never got to our offices that had all the XIV papers. Actually, they were just a couple of local thieves, who were caught VERY quickly. Sure caused some disturbance. though.

  • TexasThicket

    Lots of good stories. The entire operation wouldn’t be possible today. Too many satellites, the electronic age, and too many “Loose Lips.” On the other hand, today, if one country wants the details of another’s sunken submarine, they hire some good hackers and BINGO!! Lots cheaper than the expense of the glomar Explorer ruse. Back in the day a $650,000. engine was considered a lot of money. Two of them were delivered one for the Glomar XII (Grand Banks) and the second for the Glomar XIV (Explorer.) One got dropped and cracked in the warehouse where they were received on the North Loop in Houston.