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Calypso was originally a wooden-hulled minesweeper built for the British Royal Navy built by the Ballard Marine Railway Company of Seattle, Washington, USA. She was a BYMS (British Yard Minesweeper) Mark 1 Class Motor Minesweeper, laid down on 12 August 1941. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy in February 1943 as HMS J-826 and assigned to active service in the Mediterranean Sea, and finally struck from the Naval Register in 1947.
Cousteau restructured and transformed her into an expedition vessel and support base for diving, filming and oceanographic research in 1950.