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Navy Survey Ship (AGS) Numeric Listing

02/19/2000, Updated links 12/18/2009


AGOR Numeric List

I believe the list is accurate; however, notice of errors is welcome. Sources include the on-line version of the Naval Vessel Register, Janes', and various publications concerning ocean research. The fact many of these ships were operated by universities and never by the Navy itself is a factor that may have led to errors even in official sources as with the "Conrad class" as noted below. Another example is the ship designated AGOR-18 while operated by Scripps as Argo. Several have disputed the connection; however, I located a Scripps document concerning the conversion of Snatch to Argo and a connection to the AGOR designation. I speculate that Scripps never made much of the AGOR-18 designation by Navy and Navy never quite recognized the Scripps name of Argo in its formal listing. Argo became an AGOR retroactively.

As in interesting sidelight, the institutions were generally reluctant to make much of the military ownership of the research vessels. This was particularly true in the Vietnam and post Vietnam War period. I even heard one of our own oceanographers remark (concerning our more military project that had come aboard one of the AGS-26 class ships for a month) "I prefer to think I work for a scientific institution." Regardless, the hulls are owned by the U.S. Navy and operated under terms reflecting that ownership.

We used to have some fun with the "white ship" vs. the "gray ship" mentality -- though paint color wasn't an indicator of mission. The AGS-26 class and AGORs were also called "showboats" as they frequently hosted open houses (or "open ships") in ports all over the world. They sometimes hosted rather formal dinner parties for government officials at such functions as International Hydrographic Organization meetings. The design of AGS-26 wardrooms was I believe partly made to serve those functions. The little AGORs were hardly in such a position with the "wardroom" being a couple of booths, but they did hold less grand open ship. Most, but not all, of the "gray ships" were workhorses almost beaten to death. They generally had "No Visitor" signs and hosted no parties.

In reality the AGORs clearly operated as naval oceanographic vessels worked almost entirely on general and open projects. Some even left the "oceanographic" community entirely and became scientific platforms for Navy laboratories engaged in more specific ocean engineering work. The oceanographic ships operated by Navy were often treated almost as charter platforms available to researchers of other agencies. It was often cooperative with other nations and the data is usually public or widely shared. They are much more akin to true R/V types than the AGS and AG vessels.

Many of these ships are stricken and no longer in service with Navy or U. S. institutions. Some remain active under other flags. I've furnished links or information where I believe they are still active, but have not done detailed research to confirm status. Several no longer appear on easily checked lists for the country indicated in the NVR custodian information and are presumed scrapped, sold or otherwise disposed of by their secondary owners.

Names for these vessels are generally shortened to the last name of the individual for which they are named. This is done even in many official records to the point the full name is lost even to those sailing aboard. In fact, I can't remember any case in which those aboard or intimately familiar with the ship used a full name in conversation or reports. One amusing exception was when USNS Bent , as she was commonly known, had a period of breakdowns in operations where other ships were dependent on her work. I was aboard one of those other ships and some began joking "Silas isn't bent, Silas is broke!" as our schedule was slipping. In most cases the full name was not displayed on the ship itself except perhaps on a memorial plaque. In some cases I have doubt the sponsor's intended name was actually continued by MSTS/MSC or the official registers.

As an example I recently saw an old article announcing the addition of two new vessels with the full names of the Bartlett and De Steiguer. I don't think I'd ever been aware of the full name and certainly they were never referred to by full name. These ships were named, as are several other AGOR and AGS ships, after former commanders of the Naval Hydrographic Office: Commander John R. Bartlett (June 1883-June 1888) and Captain Louis R. De Steiguer (July 1921 - December 1921). I've added a table of those names from Pinsel's history of the office as a reference at the bottom of this page

See the NavSource Oceanographic Research Ship (AGOR) Index for photos and details. I am deferring to NavSource for ship details as well as assisting them when possible as they are creating a major resource covering all U.S. Navy vessels in some detail. Some additional specifics, particularly construction and disposal information, is available through the Naval Vessel Register (NVR) pages for these ships: OCEANOGRAPHIC RESEARCH SHIP.


Hull
with
NavSource link
Name and notes
"DANFS link" is the link to that ship's Naval Historical Center DANFS entry

Be aware that the publication of the hard copy DANFS often was shortly after these ships began service and usually contains only the briefest history.

Class
(See the note on class following table)
Ships
AGOR 1 Josiah Willard Gibbs (ex San Carlos (AVP-51)) is now covered at Naval Historical Center's Online Library of Selected Images, USNS Josiah Willard Gibbs (T-AGOR-1), 1958-1971. The link from that page, On Board and Close Up, provides interesting views of early AGOR modifications and machinery.

Josiah Willard Gibbs DANFS link

San Carlos (AVP-51) DANFS link

Gibbs
AGOR 2 H. U. Sverdrup (built for Norway): This is probably a similar case to AGOR 26 (below) in which a vessel under construction was assigned the AGOR designation for administrative purposes.

The vessel is described in the 1968-69 Jane's as being laid down in September 1959 and launched February 1960. Construction was by Örens Mekaniske Verksted, Trondheim, financed by the U. S. Mutual Weapon Development Program and operated by Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. Specifications are unlike any U. S. AGOR: welded steel hull, controllable pitch propeller, 127.7 oa X 111.5 X 13, 11.5 knots, 400 tons displacement, 10 crew, 9 scientists. A note is made that "She does not belong to the Royal Norwegian Navy, but is a Defense project." The photo shows a classic north Atlantic trawler type vessel with a whale back bow.
  Plaque photo
AGOR 3 Robert D. Conrad - MARAD Reserve Fleet Inventory (2/28/01) showed "Ready for Disposal Non- Ret NAVSEA; Memorial interest declined" Conrad was scrapped 27 April 2004.

Robert D. Conrad DANFS link

Conrad
AGOR 4 James M. Gilliss [Mexico's Altair (H-05)]

James M. Gilliss DANFS link

Conrad
AGOR 5 Charles H. Davis [New Zealand's HMNZS Tui] This little AGOR had perhaps the nicest ending I've ever seen. She is pictured at the NavSource site surrounded by friends (wouldn't be surprised if they weren't toasting with bubbly) and possibly even fireworks (scuttling charges with three rockets?) -- unless there was a bit of an accident. The ship's bell is preserved with the names of children baptized aboard underneath in a RN tradition. Note that after an anchor recovery she has a monument nearby. Conrad
AGOR 6 Sands Became Brazil's Almirante Camara (H-41), decommissioned 2003.

Sands DANFS link

Conrad
AGOR 7 Lynch DANFS link - scrapped, 29 November 2001 Conrad
AGOR 8 Eltanin DANFS link Eltanin
AGOR 9 Thomas G. Thompson (link to University of Washington web page) sunk as part of an exercise 14 November 2004.

Thomas G. Thompson DANFS link

Conrad
AGOR 10 Thomas Washington [See: Vidal Gormaz, Chile]

Thomas Washington DANFS link

Conrad
AGOR 11 Mizar (link to this web site's Mizar web page) - scrapped 2005.

Mizar DANFS link

Eltanin
AGOR 12 Louis R. De Steiguer [See: N. O. Salambo, Tunisia] Conrad (1)
AGOR 13 John R. Bartlett (link to this web site's page containing Bartlett) [See: Abou Barakat Albarbari, Morocco] Conrad (1)
AGOR 14 Melville (SIO web page link)

Melville DANFS link

Conrad (2)
AGOR 15 Knorr (WHOI Marine Operations page link)

Knorr DANFS link

Conrad (2)
AGOR 16 Hayes (Redesignated T-AG 195) AGOR-16 was intended to be used by Hudson Laboratories of Columbia University under contract to the Office of Naval Research and to be named Hudson. An interesting article in the December 1968 United States Naval Institute Proceedings titled "The Research Catamaran T-AGOR 16" by LTC J. C. Froid details the design history. Hayes
AGOR 17 Chain (ex ARS-20 converted 1958 to oceanographic research) [WHOI]

Chain DANFS link

 
AGOR 18 Argo, (ex Snatch ARS-27 converted 1959-60 to oceanographic research) Navy references do not appear to use the name Argo and simply refer to AGOR 18. Argo may have been a name applied by Scripps and never officially recognized by Navy. An interesting Navy Support for Oceanography at SIO page describing research projects at SIO sponsored by the Office of Naval Research includes the 1960 project "Trapani: Conversion of USS SNATCH to R/V ARGO." [SIO]

Snatch DANFS link

 

The following ships came into operation after work on published DANFS. Links on name are generally to an institution operating the ship or to other pertinent web pages. I believe one intention of placing the published DANFS on Naval Historical Centers web pages is to allow updates without being bound to the expensive cycle of hard copy book publishing. A few ships have already benefited from such updates at the NHC web site.

AGOR 19 Planned FY 1968, canceled  
AGOR 20 Planned FY 1968, canceled  
AGOR 21 Gyre Once operated by Texas A&M University's Oceanography Department as an AGOR. Disposed by Navy August 17,1992. Owned by Texas A&M University as R/V Gyre. Texas A&M University at Galveston web page shows Gyre retired in August 2005. Gyre
AGOR 22 Moana Wave is "Out of UNOLS Service." Previously operated by University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), the R/V Moana Wave is being replaced by AGOR 26, Kilo Moana. The Moana Wave was operated as the S/V Moana Wave by "Clearwater Environmental/Ocean Services, LLC of Anchorage, Alaska ... which itself is a division of the Ahtna Regional Corporation (one of Alaska's 13 Regional Native Corporations). Taken under management agreement with her new owner, R/V Moana Wave was rebuilt and refitted to become an ocean cable route survey vessel and has been under charter for doing cable route surveys across the Pacific Rim from North America to the Far East and back." A web page dated 2006 and on the web as of December 2009 showed the ship as one of Stabbert Maritime's vessels. Gyre
AGOR 23 Thomas G. Thompson [UW] Thompson
AGOR 24 Roger Revelle [SIO] Thompson
AGOR 25 Atlantis [WHOI] Thompson
AGOR 26 Ronald H. Brown [NOAA] See the NOAA photo library for NOAA ship pictures.

This vessel's AGOR designation is a subject of confusion. The ship was described as AGOR 26 for a period, including official documents and NOAA references. In fact the current NOAA page for the ship's history states:

    "The opportunity to acquire a new vessel through an existing contract for two Navy AGOR 24 Class ships was recognized as the best option to meet the needs of the NOAA fleet." And later "The new NOAA AGOR-24 [sic] was originally intended to be named RESEARCHER, following the tradition of the original NOAA Class I fleet. However, on April 3rd, 1996, the untimely death of Ronald H. Brown, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and an ardent supporter of the NOAA fleet, gave cause to the memorial action of naming the new ship in his memory."

"The new NOAA AGOR-24" obviously refers to NOAA's previous class statement as AGOR 24 itself was already the Roger Revelle.

I have a so far unproven suspicion that the vessel, built to AGOR 23 specifications, was assigned the designation AGOR 26 for administrative purposes during construction under Navy supervision for NOAA at Halter Marine's Moss Point shipyard where the others of the class had been built for Navy. If so, the Navy later "recycled" the designation to apply to new construction, the Kilo Moana (below).

Thompson
AGOR 26 Kilo Moana. Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) design. Delivered to the operator (University of Hawaii) in 2003 and has been operating successfully since. She replaced the AGOR-22, Moana Wave.

Note that the designation AGOR 26 has been used before in Navy and NOAA documents. My estimate of the cause for this confusion is explained above.

 


SIO - Scripps Institution of Oceanography
SOEST - School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii
UW - University of Washington School of Oceanography
WHOI - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Marine Operations

These ships operate as part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory Systems (UNOLS) fleet.

Notes on ship class and some updates on AGOR-26 thanks to John Freitag (Office of Naval Research):

A worldwide list of research vessels is maintained by the University of Delaware.


It appears that the little ships of the Conrad class are being replaced in their second life worldwide by the more recent first generation AGOS Ocean Surveillance Ship class. It makes sense. They are nearly 20 years younger and designed for open ocean work involving over-the-stern operations. They would appear to make good candidates for more capable oceanographic vessels than the little mid-sixties AGOR design. That in a sense takes the AGOR class full circle. Josiah Willard Gibbs (AGOR 1) was a conversion. She started as San Carlos (AVP 51), a small seaplane tender with three battle stars for WW II service. The AGOS types were at least designed and served in a function quite similar to that required of a small oceanographic ship.

No AGOR class ships are actually operated by Navy now. The ones once operated under the Oceanographer of the Navy, a position itself subject to great change after 2001, are gone abroad to serve other countries. Hayes is reclassified, Mizar, Conrad and Lynch are scrapped and even those operated by the Navy laboratories have long been transferred to other countries. The only current AGORs then are the "non-AGORs" -- those operated with little reference to their naval ownership and classification by the universities. There are thus no more T-AGOR ships, the "T" indicating U.S. Naval Ship (USNS) status under the Military Sealift Command.


Ship name sources for the AGORs and some of the AGS ships.

List of Commanders
From: 150 Years of Service on the Seas, Vol. 1 (1830-1946), by Marc I. Pinsel, Government Printing Office

Depot of Charts and Instruments
Lieutenant Louis H. Goldsborough Dec. 1830 - Mar 1833
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes Mar 1833 - Jun 1837
Lieutenant James N. Gilliss Jun 1837 - Jul 1842
Superintendent, U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office
Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury Jul. 1842 - Apr 1861
Captain James N. Gilliss Apr 1861 - Feb 1865
Rear Admiral Charles H. Davis Apr 1865 - Aug 1866
Commanding Officer, U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office
Commander Thomas S. Fillebrown Aug 1866 - Jul 1868
Captain Napoleon B. Harrision Jul 1868 - Dec 1868
Commander Edward Simpson Dec 1868 - Oct 1869
Commodore George F. Emmons Oct 1869 - Oct 1870
Hydrographers, U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office
Captain Robert H. Wyman Oct 1870 - May 1878
Captain Samuel R. Franklin May 1878 - Jul 1880
Commodore John C. P. De Krafft Jul 1880 - Jun 1883
Commander John R. Bartlett Jun 1883 - Jun 1888
Lieutenant George L. Dyer Jun 1888 - Nov 1889
Captain Henry F. Picking Nov 1889 - Sep 1890
Lieut. Commander Richardson Clover Jun 1891 - May 1893
Commander Charles D. Sigsbee May 1893 - Apr 1897
Captain Joseph E. Craig Apr 1897 - Jan 1900
Captain Chapman C. Todd Jan 1900 - Nov 1901
Commaider W. H. H. Sutherland Nov 1901 - Feb 1904
Captain H. H. Hodges Feb 1904 - Oct 1906
Commander Charles C. Rogers Oct 1906 - May 1908
Captain Albert G. Winterhalter May 1908 - Jan 1910
Captain John J. Knapp Jan 1910 - May 1912
Captain George F. Cooper May 1912 - Apr 1914
Captim Thomas Washington Apr 1914 - Jun 1916
Rear Admiral Thomas Snowden Jun 1916 - Oct 1917
Rear Admiral Seaton Schroeder Oct 1917 - Mar 1919
Rear Admiral Edward Simpson Mar 1919 - Dec 1919
Rear Admiral Lloyd H. Chandler Jun 1920 - Jul 1921
Captain Louis R. De Steiguer Jul 1921 - Dec 1921
Captain Frederic B. Bassett Jan 1922 - Jul 1925
Rear Admiral Walter S. Crosley Jun 1925 - Jul 1927
Captain Clarence S. Kempff Sep 1927 - Jun 1930
Rear Admira1 Walter R. Gherardi Jun 1930 - Mar 1935
Captain Lamar R. Leahy May 1935 - Aug 1938
Rear Admiral George S. Bryan Aug. 1938 - Feb. 1946


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Original text and photographs Copyright © 1998, 2001 by Ramon Jackson
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