Maryland cranes used to clear collapsed bridges were also used on CIA missions in the 1970s


Today, a floating crane named the Chesapeake 1000 (nicknamed “Chessy”) has the difficult task of hauling shattered steel from last week’s fatal accident. Baltimore bridge collapsed.

It has taken on many jobs over the decades. But until last week, the crane’s most high-profile operation was helping the CIA salvage part of a sunken Soviet submarine.

What’s the origin story?

In the early 1970s, the crane barge was called the Sun 800 because of its lifting capacity. In 1974, it helped build a specialized ship to hoist part of the submarine. Specifically, a crane was attached to the ship’s heavy machinery, which was crucial for Cold War-era robberies.

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The equipment includes mechanical claws, tons of steel pipe and heavy-duty hydraulic systems. The Soviet submarine was located approximately 3 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

this CIA The company writes on its website that the vessel “can conduct the entire recovery underwater, away from the sight of other ships, aircraft or spy satellites.” The specialized vessel, known as the Hughes Glomar Explorer, Named after billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes.

To save time, a Philadelphia-area shipyard built the ship’s heavy-duty components on the ground. Floating cranes are needed to lift these assembled components onto the new ship.

“The Sun 800 was built specifically to help us build the Hughes Glomar Explorer,” said Gene Schorsch, then director of hull design at Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.

The Chesapeake 1000 crane is shown on March 29, 2024, in use in Maryland to assist in clearing debris after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. (AP Photo/Brian Witt, File)

What is the mission of the CIA?

This secret mission was called “Project Azores.”

News stories from 1975 recounted the mission. But Washington did not confirm the basic facts until 2010, when the CIA released a partially redacted report that lacked many interesting details.

“This is considered one of the most expensive intelligence operations ever conducted,” said M. Todd Bennett, a history professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, who wrote a 2022 account This book about the task. “More than that, this was undoubtedly one of the most creative or daring intelligence operations in American history.”

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The submarine, K-129, disappeared in 1968 northeast of Hawaii. After the Soviet Union gave up the search, the United States found the ship.

“It’s one thing to discover it,” Bennett said. “But having the necessary funding to try to devise a way to recover that hardware is truly remarkable. People have compared it to the underwater moon landing program, and rightly so.”

The submarine was a potential source of intelligence, ranging from details of Soviet nuclear weapons capabilities to military codes.

By 1970, the CIA had plans in place and a cover story for the vessel: a commercial deep-sea mining vessel owned by Hughes.

The agency hopes to salvage a 132-foot-long, 1,750-ton section of the submarine.

“While maintaining its position in the ocean current, the ship must be lowered by adding 60 feet of support steel pipe, one piece at a time,” the CIA wrote.

Another piece of machinery assembled for the boat is a special platform. It is used to keep the claw system stable in ocean currents and on target.

“You want the boat to be able to roll or pitch without affecting the pipe,” Schorsch said.

During the mission, the claws caught the submarine part. But it cracked about a third of the way up, causing part of the submarine’s hull to fall off.

Bennett said former CIA Director William Colby later wrote that the most valuable part of the submarine had been lost.

However, the bodies of six Soviet sailors were also recovered and received official military burial at sea.

Do they try again?

A second mission is planned. But in 1975, reporters led by Seymour Hersh, then a writer for The New York Times, and columnist Jack Anderson broke the story.

Bennett said news reports suggested some manuals may have been recovered, while some hull fragments helped the United States refine its estimate of Soviet naval capabilities.

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Bennett said Anderson’s sources told him the Azorian program was too costly and would drain resources from other intelligence programs.

The submarine is also diesel-powered and is several generations behind Soviet nuclear-powered submarines.

“Anderson’s sources and Anderson believe that this is truly a museum piece, an artifact,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the U.S. media was heavily criticized for covering the program, which had a “chilling effect” as the news media became less willing to disclose intelligence secrets.

Was the operation successful?

The mission itself was a partial success, the professor said.

“Sadly, the ship itself no longer exists – it was scrapped several years ago,” Bennett said. “But it’s an important piece of hardware. It’s a very important mission in the history of U.S. intelligence, in part because it was one of the first major underwater operations that we know of.”

Meanwhile, the crane that helped build the Hughes Glomar Explorer is now regularly hailed as one of the largest of its kind on the East Coast.

Engineering News-Record, a magazine covering the construction industry, wrote in 2017 that Donjon Marine Co. Inc. purchased the Sun 800 in 1993. The salvage company increased processing capacity to 1,000 tons and renamed it the Chesapeake 1000 to reflect its purpose. Can be hauled.

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Since then, it has helped build bridges and buildings. But few projects are as urgent as Baltimore’s.Officials are scrambling to clear shipping lanes and build a new port at one of the East Coast’s busiest ports Francis Scott Key Bridge.

“Going out there and seeing it up close, you realize what a monumental task it was,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Friday after the Chesapeake 1000 reached the collapsed span. “You know what we have in front of us. How difficult the job is.”



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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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