It’s March 1960, and the American aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge is sailing in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. This is a routine cruise: a journey from the Japanese port of Yokosuka back to the States. But now, three days after the ship has departed Japan, what the lookouts spot in the empty ocean wastes is far from routine. It’s a Russian military barge – in just about the last place you’d expect to see it.
There were four Soviet mariners aboard the barge, too. And it became clear to the on-looking American sailors that these men were in serious trouble. But this was the height of the Cold War – the prolonged period of intense hostility that marked Soviet-U.S. relations in this era. So what was the correct protocol in this situation? Should the Americans offer to help the struggling fellow mariners? Or was another, more fatal course of action required?
These four Soviets – actually construction workers rather than sailors – really were in trouble, though. In fact, they’d had almost 50 days of nothing but problems. That’s how long their barge, a motorized transport vessel, had been drifting across the Pacific without power. Ocean winds and currents had also driven them around 1,000 miles since the start of their grueling ordeal.