Coast Guard sentinels to continue Hawaiian watch despite challenges to keep them operating

Hawaii-Pacific Coast Guard Newsby Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Soto

Honolulu – atchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Honolulu are called to action by a urgent request for assistance. A vessel captain reports that his 24-foot charter vessel, the Mellow Yellow, is disabled six miles east of the Big Island of Hawaii with two people aboard. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska launches as they have done so many times before.

Chief Petty Officer Jacob Buckley, a machinery technician stationed aboard the 110-foot Island Class patrol boat, noted that conditions were far from optimal. Fighting through eight to 10-foot seas and 20-knot winds, the crew arrived on scene and managed to lower their small boat into the water to render assistance. Once aboard the Mellow Yellow, they inspected the entire steering system to see if repairs were possible.

Emergency Steering

A temporary steering system made by Coast Guard Cutter Kiska engineers was used to escort the motor vessel Mellow Yellow back to port, March 3, 2013. (US Coast Guard photo)

“After seeing there was no way to make repairs to the installed steering system, we had two options,” Buckley said. The options were either tow the Mellow Yellow and crew back to shore or try to rig an emergency steering system and drive them back to Hilo. With daylight waning and a tow requiring reduced speeds, the crew decided to improvise.

Buckley and other crewmembers made an emergency steering system by rigging a six-foot board to the left outboard engine. They secured it in place using duct tape, 20-feet of line and a little ingenuity, allowing the vessel to be steered as they escorted it back to shore.

The 23-year-old Kiska, homeported on the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of two 110-foot Island Class patrol boats in the Hawaiian Islands. The second, the Coast Guard Cutter Galveston Island, is homeported in Honolulu. Since the 1980’s, the 20-person crews aboard these vessels have conducted search and rescue, law enforcement and environmental protection missions throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific.

Despite the capabilities of these ships, most of the 110’s in the Coast Guard are past their intended service life, established when a ship is designed. As cutters age, crewmembers endure numerous engineering challenges in keeping them operational. Continued heavy use requires constant maintenance and repair. These needs are increasingly preventing the crews from being able to perform their designated missions.

“The cutter does experience casualties. They range from sewage issues, gray-water issues, exhaust leaks, minor system malfunctions to something larger,” said Chief Petty Officer David Jones, a machinery technician and the Galveston Island engineering officer. “Usually they’re small problems, but they take time to fix, and they add up.”

Due to the age of the Galveston Island and Kiska, some parts are no longer available from the manufacturer or the manufacturer is no longer in business. That being the case, getting underway highly depends on whether or not the part that is needed is essential to the ship’s functioning.

Steer with a board

Chief Petty Officer Jacob L. Buckley, a machinery technician from the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska, helps steer the Mellow Yellow back to shore, March 3, 2013 (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The combined issues cost the crews valuable time and reduce service to the people of the Hawaiian Islands, Jones noted. As maintenance issues become more complex the potential impact on mission execution increases. In the context of a search and rescue case this could lead to loss of life.

The delicate balance between maintenance and operations has not gone unnoticed and efforts are being undertaken at the highest levels of the service to ensure the missions and service of the Coast Guard patrol boat fleet are maintained.

“Parts availability and conditions of the ships have been key considerations in the decision to bring new ships to the fleet,” said Lt. Justin Nadolny, a Fast Response Cutter sponsor representative at the Coast Guard’s Office of Cutter Forces in Washington D.C.

The Acquisitions Directorate, the office in charge of recapitalization projects, has worked with industry partners to develop the Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter. This new class of ship features an array of new technologies, communications systems and living quarters for the crew. Four of these ships are already in use in Miami and two are set to be stationed in Hawaii within the next decade.

“The FRC’s offer significantly improved sea keeping over the 110,” Nadolny said. “It has a much better ability to launch its small boat and improved crew habitability.” Nadolny also pointed out that the FRC’s are capable of travelling farther than the 110’s, an important factor in Hawaii’s vast area of operations.

Today, two 110-foot patrol boats provide essential missions to the Hawaiian Islands and beyond, but due to the increase of maintenance issues, their time is running out. With the introduction of the Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter, a new and capable platform will provide the Hawaiian community with readiness they can rely for generations to come.

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