The crane with a Cold War secret

The recent collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has focused attention on an unlikely hero: The 1,000 ton (907 tonne) Chesapeake 1000 floating crane, which is currently playing a crucial role in clearing the debris from the tragic incident. However, its history also unveils a Cold War secret. To see her in action check the videos below
The Chessy as she is today

In 1968, a Soviet submarine carrying nuclear armed ballistic missiles, known as K-129 disappeared in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. The US Government, keenly aware of the opportunities and values the sunken vessel represented, launched a secret operation dubbed ‘Project Azorian.’

The K-129 submarine

The mission involved collaboration between the CIA and salvage contractors to devise a recovery plan, a key part involved the building of the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a vessel designed for deep sea recovery operations and a large floating crane, the 800 ton/725 tonne ‘Sun 800’, which had it’s a new boom installed in 1980 and was later upgraded to the 1,000 ton ‘Chesapeake 1000’ or ‘Chessy’ as it is more fondly known.

Both Chessy and the Glomar Explorer were commissioned by the CIA in 1972 at a cost of $5 million. They were built by Sunshipbuilding and Drydock, a major shipbuilder in Chester, Pennsylvania on the Delaware river, which operated from 1917 to 1989. At the time it was claimed to be largest floating crane in the world. Today it features a 70 metre boom and can handle the 907 tonnes maximum capacity at a forward reach of 19 metres.
The Hughes Glomar Explorer courtesy- Tequask

The plan was to lift the 1,750 tonne submarine from the ocean floor, from a depth of more than four kilometres. This required a claw mechanism, or ‘Capture Vehicle’ affectionately called Clementine, mounted under the vessel, with Chessy playing a crucial role in assembling, handling and assisting.
Despite the challenges and setbacks, including the partial loss of the submarine's hull during retrieval, Project Azorian yielded valuable intelligence insights into Soviet naval capabilities. The mission, was initially shrouded in secrecy with a cover story of the Glomar Explorer and Chessy posing as a commercial deep sea mining vessels. The story eventually became public knowledge due to persistent investigative journalism.

In 1993, the crane was acquired by Donjon Marine which upgraded it to the 1,000 ton crane it is today, renaming it the Chesapeake 1000. Donjon Marine was founded in 1964 by J. Arnold Witte to work on marine salvage and transportation. It is now based in Hillside, New Jersey.
The scene on March 26th

Baltimore Francis Scott Key bridge over the Patapsco River in Maryland was destroyed on March 26th when it was struck by the 300 metre container ship ‘Dali’ after it lost power, resulting in the death of six members of a construction team working on the bridge deck.
Close up the Dali and the bridge wreckage

The crane has already removed a 200 tonne section of the bridge as it works to clear the channel to one of the nation’s busiest ports.

The videos below shows more from the scene