USNS H. H. Hess (T-AGS-38) underway in Elliott Bay in Puget Sound, Date unknown -  by: Carl R. Friberg Jr.

H. H. Hess Class
Hydrographic Survey Ship
Laid down, 10 August 1963, for the
American Mail Lines as
the SS Canada Mail,
1 of 2 type
Break-Bulk Cargo Ships

The other was SS Oregon Mail,
 now the SS Ocean Phoenix
operating out of Seattle WA.

Specifications:  Length 563' 8"  Beam 76'; 
Displacement 16,828 t. Speed 20 kts.
Propulsion: Steam  w/ two boilers geared

American Mail Lines of Seattle Washington: operated between the Pacific Northwest and ports in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.  Cargoes bound for the East Asia were usually loaded in Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle, Tacoma, and Longview, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. 

Click image of Brochure, far upper/right
to view passenger accomodations.

The Canada Mail was built as the containerization revolution was still getting underway.  Aside from possible stowage on deck, no provision was made in its design for the transport of standardized cargo containers, and it remained a purely break-bulk cargo ship while in commercial service.  Maritimeblog

After WWII, when calm deliberation put lessons to use, the Mariners were the result; big 565 foot C-4 size freighters with 7 hatches, modern plants (20 knots, easy).  The class came out in the early 50's and had regular king post cargo gear like the pre-war C-3s. As follow on variations came out for different trades, the rigs were modified to suit the owner's needs/tastes.  The BiPod, an "A" frame mast cargo handling system, as shown in photo of SS Cape Girardeau above, was adopted by American Mail Lines in 1959 and characterized their fleet.
Click this BiPod for details
In 1975 the Canada Mail was acquired by MSC for conversion to an oceanographic research ship.  The alterations were largely internal and below the waterline.  Outwardly, the vessel appeared little changed.  It was renamed the USNS H. H. Hess after a scientist in the field of oceanography, and designated T-AGS-38.  The ships new role was deep ocean research.  It was expected to stay at sea underway for as long as 34 days, charting the oceans topography and other features using multi-beam sonar.   Much of this work was done in support of the Trident Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Program.  The Hess served the Navy for nearly 20 years.  In 1992, Hess was removed from service and placed in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet.  The ship was declared non-retention in 1994.

USGS Sea Floor Mapping: This technology developed for World War II included the fathometer, an echo sounding device that instantly measured depths to the sea floor enabling troop ships to move into shallow water. Once transport commander, Harry Hess, made a habit of running his ship's fathometer continually. A geologist and Princeton Professor in civilian life, Hess wanted to learn more about the topography of the sea floor. He soon discovered that the ocean floor was not level as expected but was instead dotted with flat topped mountains, which he named "guyots." Hess was perplexed by how these mountains formed. Their flat summits could seemingly be explained by wave erosion, but why, then, did the guyots lie so deep underwater? Hess thought he saw a clue to this mystery when he observed that the deepest guyots lay farthest from the mid-ocean ridge system.
The only reason I followed this ship is, THE "A FRAME" MYSTIFIED ME. :)

Suisun Bay, Row J Sept. 2009

Row J at Suisun Bay by Jitze Couperus on November 16, 2010 - the same day the SS President was pulled out of line.
SS President and SS Solon Turman will be dismantled locally at Mare Island.
The 12th and 13th ships to leave Reserve fleet were American Reliance and American Racer, see below.
Esco Marine, of Brownsville, Texas, was given the award to dismantle the SS Dawn for about $551,000 and USNS H.H. Hess for about $452,000.

The mission of the Ocean Survey Ship (T-AGS) is to conduct ocean surveys and provide essential geophysical bathyrretric, gravity and geomagnetic) and other scientific data. No provision was made for survivability features except for water washdown and damage control surveillance in accordance with regulatory and Military Sealift Command (MSC) requirements. To reduce vibration and acoustic interference, the engines are mounted on rafts, isolated from the hull by rubber cushions [as is done on nuclear submarines].

The mission survey system is a highly complex, integrated navigation, bathymetric, and data refinement system that produces high-accuracy charts of bathymetry, gravity, magnetics, and other geophysical parameters in support of the Trident Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Program. The system features a multi-beam, wide-angle precision sonar for continuous charting of a broad strip of ocean floor under the ship's track. The system is operational on four deep-ocean survey ships: the USNS Maury (T-AGS 39), USNS Tanner (T-AGS 40), USNS H. H. Hess (T-AGS 38), and USNS Wyman (T-AGS 34). The Ocean Survey Program (OSP) has a BRICKBAT 01 priority, the Navy's highest, and is in a continuous evolutionary phase to maintain the highest state-of-the-art in survey capability and productivity.

T-AGS ships had a regularly scheduled deployment cycle consisting of a mission up to 34 days at sea at a constant speed of 20 knots, followed by a 6 to 7 day period in port. A 45 day biennial yard period with a mid-period 30 day yard period in intervening years is scheduled for maintenance.

The objective of the T-AGS Ship Acquisition Program was to acquire the ocean survey ships for gathering geophysical data. An Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of late FY 87 is desired. A cost target of $262.OM was established for the two ships. The program experienced considerable delays. The keels were laid in 1986, with original delivery dates projected in early 1988. Problems with mounting of the propulsion system, reduced shipbuilder manning and unexpected problems during builders trials combined to result in deliveries in March 1989 and July 1990. In the bill making appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1992, the Congress provided up to $75,000,000 was available for payments pursuant to settlement of Public Law 85-804 claims for T-AGS 39 and T-AGS 40.

During inspection by: Nathan Menefee  U. S. Coast Guard Article:
Mr. Menefee had a rare glimpse inside one of the boilers on the USNS H.H. Hess.  Even the untrained eye might notice that something doesn't seem quite right.  What you are seeing [in the article] is the melted interior of the starboard Foster-Wheeler propulsion boiler on board this ex. hydrographic survey ship.  This is a rare sight because keeping one’s boiler from melting is usually one of the fundamental operating principles in any steam plant.  Some how, some way, the machinery watch on the H.H. Hess allowed this spectacular casualty to take place sometime in late 1991 or early 1992.  I’m not certain exactly how this happened, but it definitely appears that lack of water was probably the prime culprit.

Dec. 28, 2010  The Benicia Herald  By Donna Beth Weilenman   Staff Reporter

The USNS H.H. Hess is slated to be pulled from the fleet on Jan. 14.  The Hess was a ship that changed careers from merchant vessel to service with the Military Sealift Command. Launched in 1964 and originally named the SS Canadian Mail, it first was part of the American Mail Lines fleet. The ship was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1977, renamed the USNS H.H. Hess, and converted to a hydrographic survey ship in preparation for its change of purpose. It served in the MSC until l992 and received Navy Battle E Ribbons and a national Defense Service Medal before it was deactivated and towed to Suisun Bay. It was withdrawn from the Ready Reserve Fleet in 2003. After failing to qualify as a historic ship in 2006, it was designated for disposal either by dismantling or as a target for live fire practice.

BAE Systems Drydock at Pier 70

This photo was taken by daver6 on January 19, 2011 in South Beach, San Francisco, CA, US, using a Nikon D3.
I saw Hess being towed out.  She was already past the GG Bridge and still in the GG Strait.  She was still a beautiful ship. 
I was sorry I didn’t have a camera with me.  I would have pulled over.  I attended a meeting aboard her in Pearl.
 She had quarters for 12 passengers and a beautiful lounge (See dining room photos of sister ship Ocean Phoenix).
 More than 12 passengers aboard requires the ship to have a doctor aboard so all these ships
 were limited to 12 passengers.
Captain Patrick Moloney

Click Map above for towing details

Leaving Miraflores Locks    09:22   2/17/2011

Entering Padro Migel



This photo is hard to beat! - from SHIPSPOTTING  click it for large image.

The 2 black spots on hull are rust spots made by wooden fenders in Suisun Bay! Mark


Westar's tug
The tug towed H. H. Hess  down along
 the Pacific coast to the Panama Canal .
The Hess continued up to Brownsville Texas

Just like she towed the

S.S. Ocean Phoenix Page has moved to:


Here another old ship leaves the bay area.

Tug Thomas Dann with American Racer in tow to Brownsville Texas - December 2010

American Racer as she was towed into the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal this morning January 7, 2011. by dmwnc1

Tug Alexandra towing American Reliance transiting the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal this morning Jan 11, 2011
enroute Brownsville TX for dismantling.
by dmwnc1

Cargo Ship Operations

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