The mysterious Google barges seen off San Francisco and Portland, Maine, last year sailed away because of fire-safety concerns repeatedly raised by the Coast Guard.
According to documents the Wall Street Journal obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, Robert Gauvin, the Coast Guard’s acting chief of commercial vessel compliance, told Google’s barge contractor, Foss Maritime Co., that the 5,000 gallons of fuel on the main deck and “substantial amount of combustible material on deck” were not a great mix.
In an email dated September 2013, a Coast Guard inspector said the barges, which would’ve functioned as floating technology showrooms, needed more and better safety measures in case anyone had to jump overboard in the event of something catastrophic (like a fire). Another email revealed the Coast Guard could not “determine if evacuation of disabled persons has been considered.”
The Coast Guard and private fire-safety firms sent Google a 20-page document laying out the requirements for fire safety and general escapes. The search giant eventually ended the project after it was unable to convince the Coast Guard such precautions weren’t needed because the number of people on the barge would never exceed 150.
The most interesting revelation found in the documents is that the barge projects were already put on hold before the public caught wind of the structures last October. The Coast Guard chalked this up to non-disclosure agreements that were signed with Google. The search giant nevertheless continued obfuscating, saying in a statement last November that the barge project was still in its early stages even though they had been suspended two months earlier.
As for the barges whereabouts now? The San Francisco one was moved east to Stockton, California after the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission kicked it out of the bay. The Maine barge was dismantled and its containers were sold for scrap.