In 1980, South Carolina deployed as part of the first Atlantic battle group to spend an entire deployment in the Indian Ocean. After a cruise to the Virgin Islands in November 1981, she was deployed in January 1982 for a six month deployment with Eisenhower.
In 1985, South Carolina began a new year by conducting preparatory exercises in the Caribbean. It was deployed to the Mediterranean in March and completed the deployment seven months and 46,500 miles later. South Carolina spent the majority of the deployment on station off Lebanon, in the wake of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847. The cruiser underwent her second extended maintenance period from October 1985 to June 1986. She departed in July 1986 for a North Atlantic cruise, and made port visits to Wilhelmshaven, Germany and Oslo, Norway. Upon her return to Norfolk, she commenced preparations for overseas deployment and got underway on 30 December 1986 with the Nimitz Battle Group. During this deployment, South Carolina returned to her station off Lebanon when British peace emissary Terry Waite was kidnapped in Beirut. In June 1987, just months after the USS Stark (FFG-31) was struck by Iraqi missiles, South Carolina was involved in a tense standoff with Libyan jets in the Gulf of Sidra. A major incident was averted by the use of high powered electronic warfare equipment to jam the jet's radars and Libya fired back only with diplomatic protest.
She conducted joint exercises, entered the Arctic Circle where crew members became a member of the Order of the Blue Nose, and had a port visit to Wilhelmshaven, Germany. She returned home in October, 1988 to make final preparations for deployment.
South Carolina deployed to the Mediterranean in December 1988 with the Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group. During this deployment, helicopters from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron NINE (HS-9) teamed up to rescue the fifteen British crew members from four yachts disabled by heavy weather. The crew members' rescue was broadcast on television in France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and reported worldwide in newspapers. It returned to Norfolk on 30 June 1989, and began a four month availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard following a one month Caribbean visit in support of operations with Forrestal.
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