CIA spy ship built to raise Soviet sub becomes victim of oil slump

Thu Sep 3, 2015 2:10pm EDT
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By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - A ship built by the CIA for a secret Cold War mission in 1974 to raise a sunken Soviet sub is heading to the scrap yard, a victim of the slide in oil prices.

Christened the Hughes Glomar Explorer, after billionaire Howard Hughes was brought in on the CIA's deception, the 619-foot vessel eventually became part of the fleet of ships used by Swiss company Transocean to drill for oil.

But the oil price rout means the former spy ship now called GSF Explorer is just one of 40 such offshore drilling rigs that have been consigned to scrap since last year.

It's the end of a story that began when a Soviet G-II sub called the K-129 sank in September 1968 "with all hands, 16,500 feet below the surface of the Pacific", according to an official U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) history.

The sub sank with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and nearly 100 sailors, according to declassified documents at George Washington University's National Security Archive.

According to the CIA history of the mission, called "Project Azorian", the Soviet Union failed to locate the sub in a massive two-month search, but the United States found it, 1,500 miles (2,400 km) northwest of Hawaii.

The CIA wanted to get its hands on the nuclear missiles, as well as cryptography gear to break Soviet codes, but needed a cover story because any recovery ship would quickly be spotted by its Cold War foe.

The CIA brought billionaire Hughes in on the secret. Under a meticulously crafted fiction, the ship was built for Hughes at Pennsylvania's Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co, because he needed it to mine sea-bed manganese nodules.   Continued...

The Glomar Explorer ship is seen anchored in the U.S. Navy's National Defense Reserve Fleet anchored in Suisan Bay, California in this U.S. Navy handout file photo taken on May 15, 1977 and released to Reuters by the Archives Branch of The U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/US Navy/Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington/Handout