Huge Ship to Transport Damaged Cole

What do you use to move a big ship?

A bigger ship.

The damaged USS Cole, a 505-foot-long vessel weighing 6,767 tons without its crew, is a lightweight for the transport vessel Blue Marlin, with its 584-foot cargo deck and 30,000-ton carrying capacity.

The Navy is talking to owner Offshore Heavy Transport, a Norwegian company, about using the ship to take the Cole to a shipbuilding facility at Pascagoula, Miss., for repairs. The Marlin is currently in Dubai, not far from the Cole’s port of Aden.

Divers will first patch up the 80-by-40-foot hole in the Cole with wood as the Marlin’s crew constructs a wood-and-metal cradle on their ship to carry the Cole away.

The transport ship, one of the largest of its kind, was designed to transport huge cargoes like semi-submersible oil drilling rigs. Its sister, the Black Marlin, toted a drilling rig on its inaugural voyage from Korea to Galveston, Texas.

Sinking and Floating

The Blue Marlin has worked with the Navy before. In July, the ship transported two brand-new minesweepers from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Bahrain. (The minesweepers, all-fiberglass ships, are designed for coastal waters rather than world-spanning voyages.) Supported by cradles, the 188-foot-long ships were stacked aboard the Blue Marlin side by side.

First, the tugboat USS Catawba would pull the Cole into deeper water to be picked up by the Marlin.

Then, like the minesweepers, the Cole would be floated onto the back of the bigger ship. To do that, the Blue Marlin is partially sunk, until its cargo deck is about 30 feet underwater and only its raised forward deck protrudes from the surface. Once the Cole is floating over the Blue Marlin’s cargo deck, the big ship pumps out water, leaving it floating — and the Cole on board.

The Marlin’s crew travels in style — the brand-new ship has a sauna and swimming pool. The ship has 38 cabins for 55 people, with around 20 crew, manufacturer Offshore Heavy Transport said on its Web site.

Repairs to the Cole may cost up to $100 million — but that’s only a tenth of the price of a new destroyer. ABCNEWS.com’s Amanda Onion and Sascha Segan contributed to this report.

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