Dry Dock ‘Big Blue’ removed from Naval Base Guam

by Jeff Landis and Ensign Iia Miller
Naval Base Guam PAO

APRA HARBOR, Guam (Aug. 30, 2016) – After an extensive joint planning effort to relocate the large floating auxiliary dry dock “Ex-MACHINIST” (AFDB-8), known locally as “Big Blue,” from outer Apra Harbor at U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG), the M/V ZHEN HUA 28, a semi-submersible heavy lift vessel, carried Big Blue out of the harbor on its shoulders, Aug. 30. 

Weather concerns began early in the planning stages, as Tropical Storms 08W and 10W sent monsoon conditions to Guam with winds gusting in excess of 20 knots recently prior to Big Blue’s removal. 

A multitude of vessels gathered at inner and outer Apra Harbor to ensure Big Blue was safely loaded and bound to ZHEN HUA for its oceanic transit. Careful planning by NBG staff, the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam and Guam Shipyard staff was critical to a successful execution.  Preparations included cutting the floating dry dock into two big pieces – an evolution that took several days.  The assembly of maritime assets included patrol boats from NBG Security Department and the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Assateague (WPB-1337) and three civilian tugboats. 

Big Blue, an 883-foot-long, 174-foot-wide dry dock vessel with a submerged depth of 38 feet, is owned by Guam Industrial Services, Inc. (doing business as Guam Shipyard), and has been located in Apra Harbor since 1992.   The floating dry dock was nicknamed “Big Blue,” by locals because of its bright blue paint.  Originally constructed with steel and no independent means of propulsion in Bremerhaven, Germany as “the MACHINIST” in 1980, Big Blue was later deactivated in 1992 in conjunction with the military withdrawal from the Philippines in the early 1990s.  It was then towed for use in Guam by the U.S. Navy.  The dry dock remained in a “use as needed” basis till 1997 when it was struck from the Naval Register and purchased by Guam Industrial Services in October 2002 for use by Guam Shipyard. 

Big Blue remained in Apra Harbor over the years for use by the Navy.  Guam Shipyard started its upgrade of the drydock to 35,000 long tons and during one heavy storm in January 2011, Big Blue sank in the harbor.  Due to the extensive repairs required – which posed threats to the port of Apra Harbor – it was decided to finalize the upgrade including dry-docking of Machinist in another shipyard.

The heavy lift motor vessel ZHEN HUA 28 out of Hong Kong is 761 feet long, with a submerged draft of 67 feet and a capacity of a 40,000 gross tonnage.

Big Blue’s removal marks the second (and last) dry dock to be removed in 2016 from Apra Harbor.  The medium floating dry Dock RICHLAND was hauled out of the harbor in January. Much like RICHLAND, Big Blue’s removal would not have been possible without the extensive planning efforts of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Guam Shipyard and ZHEN HUA 28.

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