Cutter Alligator returns home from Deepwater Horizon oil spill operations

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nick Ameen

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s moments before dawn June 14, 2010. There’s a voice over the speaker system: “Now, there will be a navigational brief on the bridge in one-five minutes.” The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alligator is heading home.

They’ve spent the last two weeks patrolling the Gulf of Mexico in support of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. Alligator’s crewmembers’ mission was to contribute logistical support for the response and provide a platform for scientists to conduct water sample testing.

During the largest environmental disaster response in the history of the United States, Alligator’s crew was also responsible for fisheries enforcement as a result of more than 78,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico being closed to the fishing industry.

“We spent a lot of time informing fishermen of the closures—for their own protection,” said Lt. j.g. Marc Benson, Alligator’s commanding officer. “Keeping the public informed is a big priority of the Unified Command.”

The Alligator crew set sail May 30 from their homeport at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. The cutter is one of the Coast Guard’s newest assets – commissioned March 9, 2009 – and was the final 87-foot coastal patrol boat ordered for the Coast Guard’s fleet.

Typically, the crew of an 87-foot cutter handles missions such as law enforcement, alien migrant interdiction operations, and search and rescue. But, for the oil spill response in the Gulf, the crew of the Alligator stepped out of their normal operations and into a realm of unprecedented activities. They transported a variety of personnel to numerous locations, both afloat and ashore. They even welcomed an entire team of scientists aboard their vessel for a research mission.

“It was interesting watching them experiment with new ways to collect the oil,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard Libbey, Alligator’s engineering petty officer. “Some of the oil had the consistency of peanut butter, so they couldn’t use traditional absorbent materials. They also used a new kind of foam material that only soaks up oil and not water, and can be cleaned and reused. And, it’s biodegradable.”

As the Alligator crew returns home for some much needed rest, another cutter crew is en route to the Gulf of Mexico to perform the same mission.

The Coast Guard Cutter Marlin is also an 87-foot coastal patrol boat, and is homeported in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Its crew set sail June 13 to patrol, survey and investigate in support of the response efforts.

“To actually be able to participate in this operation definitely means a lot,” said Lt. Jeff West, Marlin’s commanding officer. “Watching everything transpire on television and being fairly close to it, we’ve been biting at the bit to get involved.”

The Marlin’s crew is one of many deployed to the Gulf of Mexico in support of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. Since the April 20 oil rig explosion that resulted in the loss of 11 lives, the nation’s eyes have been focused on the operation. The Coast Guard is but one organization involved in the unified response and its people remain determined and ready for whatever challenges may arise.

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