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'Bizarre-looking' boat is docked in Portland

Domed craft may have shuttle link
By Associated Press  |  April 25, 2005

Photo by John Patriquin 
A boat equipped with two large domes on its deck and moored in a secure area of the city's waterfront has piqued the interest of dockworkers who claim to have never seen a vessel like it.

The Sage, an offshore supply ship about 180 feet long, has been parked at Portland Ocean Terminal for three weeks at a cost of nearly $300 a day. But the ship's captain will not talk and has ordered that nobody be allowed near it.

''It's a bizarre-looking boat," said Stephen Phillips, a dockworker at the Portland Fish Exchange. ''It's crazy."

The Sage, one of 530 vessels owned by Tidewater, the world's largest offshore marine services provider, has a registered port of New Orleans. Stephen Dick, the company's executive vice president, said defense contractor Lockheed Martin has leased the vessel, though he was uncertain what the company planned for its use.

Similar domes have covered antennae used to track satellites, and some believe the boat could be used to track the space shuttle Discovery when it launches.

Lockheed manufactured the shuttle's fuel tanks at its New Orleans plant, and because of the destruction of the Columbia in 2003, this Discovery mission will be tracked more than any other shuttle mission, according to NASA.

The Discovery's earliest launch date is May 22. The final date for launch will be June 3 as part of new restrictions that force it to launch and discard the fuel tank jettisoned as the shuttle nears orbit during daylight.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram contacted officials at NASA over a period of five days, but none said whether the Sage was involved in the shuttle's mission.

Jeff Monroe, the city's director of ports and transportation, said the parabolic antennae on The Sage are larger versions of the satellite dishes people use to get television signals from satellites.

If the antennae are not used for the Discovery, he said perhaps the boat could track communications satellites or global position system satellites. Perhaps the ship is involved in classified missions, he added.

''Ultimately, we may be fooled by this," he said. ''This may be the most sophisticated TV antenna any ship has ever been equipped with. These people may be sports fans who don't want to miss any Red Sox games." 

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