Coast Guard spills the beans on Google's mystery barges

Despite non-disclosure agreement, Coast Guard says Google is involved

The U.S. Coast Guard has given up what could be a key clue in the tale of two mysterious barges moored on either side of the country.

After repeatedly declining to comment about the barges, which appear to be carrying structures made of shipping crates and are docked in the harbors in both San Francisco and Portland, Me., a Coast Guard spokesman divulged some information today, according to a CNBC.com report.

"We can confirm that Google is involved or associated with the barge, but there is a nondisclosure agreement in effect; the Coast Guard is unable to discuss or divulge any further details at this time," said Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas McKenzie, a Coast Guard spokesman..

Google has not returned repeated requests for information about the mystery barges.

These shipping containers piled on top of a barge in Portland, Maine, could be a Google floating data center, although the Internet company won't say. A similar barge is docked in San Francisco Bay. (Photo: Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld)

A Coast Guard spokesman stationed in Portland, Me. said earlier today that the captain of the station knows what's on the barge but most others there do not. The company behind the barrages has asked the Coast Guard not to talk about it because of proprietary concerns, he added.

The spokesman told Computerworld that work is not expected to begin on the barge in Portland until work is completed on the one in San Francisco.

The two barges have led to a lot of curiosity and speculation, much of it because of the heavy veil of secrecy around them.

Both are owned by By and Large, LLC, a company formed in 2012 in Delaware but with no known address or phone number.

Everyone from harbor masters to city workers to tugboat operators have either said they were never told what's on the barges, what they are intended for or whether Google is involved - or they simply won't say.

On Tuesday, Pete Vigue, CEO of The Cianbro Co., which has the construction contract for the barge docked in Portland, said he is working under a strict non-disclosure agreement.

Much of the speculation swirled around Google being the mysterious entity behind the floating structures. Some speculated that Google is building floating data centers, Apple-like Google retail stores or even Google Glass stores. Most think Google is trying out floating data centers, which the company got a patent for in 2009.

The floating data center, according to the patent, would be fueled by motion-powered, floating machines arranged in a grid and wired together. The machines, such as those built by Pelamis Wave Power Ltd in Edinburgh, Scotland, capture the natural motion of the waves, tides and current and convert it into electricity or pumping power for the data center's cooling pumps.

"It's not that far fetched," David Cappuccio, a vice president and chief of research at Gartner Inc., said in an earlier interview. "You have to be somebody of Google's size to even consider this."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about data center in Computerworld's Data Center Topic Center.

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