Every now and again, you find something interesting that is worth telling. The other day I had the opportunity to go aboard the USNS H. H. Hess, moored in the Suisun Bay mothball fleet. The following is 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 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.
History of the H.H. Hess –
- Laid down, 10 August 1963, for the American Mail Lines as SS Canada Mail a Maritime Administration type (C4-S-1sa) hull, at National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, CA, under Maritime Administration contract (MA hull 154)
- Launched, 30 May 1964
- Delivered to the Maritime Commission, 12 March 1965, and placed in service by American Mail Lines
- Returned to the Maritime Commission for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (date unknown)
- Acquired by the US Navy in 1977
- Placed in service with the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) as USNS H. H. Hess (T-AGS-38) (date unknown)
- Placed out of service, 16 January 1992, at Port Canaveral, FL.
- Struck from the Naval Register, 5 February 1992
- Transferred, 1 June 1993 to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Bay, Benicia, CA.
Unfortunately the future for the Hess is grim. This type of casualty is far to expensive to fix and the ship’s age has caught up with her. MARAD has her designated as non-retention, slated for disposal in the near future. There are literally no details about the casualty that I can find, the ship for the most part remained quiet and behind the scenes, even when active as she performed classified hydrographic surveys to support the SSBN fleet.
Below is a short video of the boiler and machinery space (I apologize for the quality/low lighting).