BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Guam is due to welcome the second of three Coast Guard Fast Response cutters to the island by the third week of December — the USCGC Oliver Henry.
Coast Guard Sector Guam’s execution in bringing the cutters to Guam has so far proceeded smoothly and the first fast response cutter — the USCG Myrtle Hazard — arrived on island Sept. 24.
The Sentinel Class cutters, also known as fast response cutters, are a new and improved version of the older ships. An FRC is 44-feet longer than the older patrol boats. Lt. Tony J. Seleznick, commanding officer of the Myrtle Hazard, told the Journal in May that the three new boats will help to establish “a stronger, more permanent and more capable presence in the area.” (See “Island to see new coast guard ships before the end of 2020,” in the May 11 issue of the Journal.)
“The FRC is a more updated, more capable platform,” he said. “With a longer range, longer endurance, more operational capacity. They will improve our ability to do our mission in the region. One of the great features of the FRC is that it has the capability for [response and long-term deployments.]”
Each FRC has a standard 24-person crew. Seleznick said the three cutters are bringing more than 70 new Coast Guard members to the island, along with a projected 100 dependents and family members. As of early 2019, the Coast Guard presence in Guam was comprised of about 250 active duty personnel and about 40 reservists.
The third cutter — the USCGC Frederick Hatch — is in Guam, with the crew undergoing training and enjoying the experience of being on-island. The Frederick Hatch will leave in February for Key West, then sail to New Orleans and will return to Guam for its commissioning, according to its sponsor.
Capt. Christopher M. Chase, commander of Coast Guard Sector Guam, previously told the Journal the new boats will be helpful because the area of responsibility for Sector Guam is one of the largest in the Coast Guard. (See “Coast Guard investing in assets for future in region” in the May 13, 2019 issue of the Journal.)
The cost of FRCs are in the millions. Chase told the Journal in May 2019 each new boat was estimated to cost about $41 million each, with all three boats having a combined value of about $123 million. He also said Sector Guam would require infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the new vessels.
National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien referred to the cutters in a phone briefing with media in the Pacific region. Speaking on Oct. 23 (Oct. 24 Chamorro Standard Time), he said American Samoa can expect an FRC cutter to be stationed in Pago Pago — pending a $5 million feasibility study in 2021 and “if conditions and appropriations are favorable.” An FRC — the USCGC Joseph Gerczak — visited Pago Pago for the first time in August last year, as part of what the Coast Guard said is the same effort of “Operation Aiga to conduct fisheries law enforcement and strengthen partnerships in American Samoa … .” Residents had the opportunity to visit the Joseph Gerczak, which is homeported in Hawaii.
Stationing an FRC in American Samoa, O’Brien said would have a trickle-down effect. “I think there will be a positive economic impact and an ability for the civilian workforce to work for DHS and the Coast Guard.”
O’Brien also talked about the homeporting of the Guam FRCs, saying that the upgrading of Coast Guard assets is an “expansion of our U.S. Coast Guard capability in the Western Pacific.”
The FRCs are part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater program, and Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., is building them. Bollinger was awarded a contract by the Coast Guard to design a prototype in 2007.After the media briefing, Bollinger released its own statement on Oct. 26, saying it had already handed the second of the three Guam cutters to the Coast Guard, which it said was the 40th in the program. Its CEO made the point that, “FRCs have conducted operations as far as the Marshall Islands — a 4,400 nautical mile trip from their homeport.”
O’Brien also referred to the “Chinese Communist party expanding its malign and predatory influence, especially in the Western Pacific” and the Coast Guard’s established role in regional security.
At an international level, O’Brien said the U.S. does discuss maritime security with other countries in the region, such as Australia and New Zealand. “We have ongoing conversations, obviously – they’re two of our closest allies.” As to the FRCs, he said that during those conversations, “We spoke broadly about our desire to put more Coast Guard assets in the area.”
During the briefing, O’Brien also addressed the U.S. commitment to regional security, as well as a commitment to Taiwan (See “Quotable” on Page 9). mbj