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The Mothball Fleet

In the book Flat Broke in Paradise, Nick, while heading north to store all of his worldly belongings, looked out the window at what everyone but the US Navy calls “the mothball fleet”. To the US Navy, it is the Pacific Reserve Fleet, groups of ships rafted up in the Suisun (pronounced suh-soon) Bay and kept in working order, ready to be activated if needed.

The Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay, California Photo by jitz

For years the fleet was comprised of Liberty Ships used in World War II to ferry service men to Europe and Russia. Due to environmental concerns of the toxins leaching in the water, the size of the fleet has been greatly reduced. In the past twenty years many of the ships have been deactivated and scrapped.

The Mothball Fleet has had some famous occupants including the battleship USS Iowa, launched in 1942 and decommissioned in 1990. The USS Iowa is now located at the Port of Los Angeles at the Pacific Battleship Museum.

The USS Iowa Photo courtesy US Navy

Another famous inhabitant to the Mothball Fleet was the Glomar Explorer. The ship was built by Howard Hughes for the United States Central Intelligence Agency Special Activities Division for use in Project Azorian, to recover the sunken Soviet submarine K-129 lost in April 1968 about 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii. It cost a fortune to build, in today's dollars it would be estimated to be US$1.67 BILLION (capitals for emphasis).

USNS Hughes Glomar ExplorerPhoto courtesy US Government

The Explorer was able to raise a good portion of the Russian Sub, but after that it was too expensive to maintain, so the ship was put in mothballs. It was further modified for US$260 million (in today's dollars) for other uses and leased by the US Navy for a mere US$1 million per year.

Sold in 2010 for $US15 million to Tranocean off-shore drilling contractors,  the Explorer is now used as a deep sea drilling rig in the Bay of Bengal.

Your tax dollars at work.

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