Coast Guard Issues Austal USA Contract Worth up to $3.3B for Offshore Patrol Cutter

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line. […]

An artist’s conception of Eastern Shipbuilding’s Offshore Patrol Cutter design.

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line.

“Austal USA will construct the OPC using its proven ship manufacturing processes and innovative production methods that incorporate lean manufacturing principles, modular construction, and moving assembly lines in the company’s new state-of-the-art enclosed steel production facility,” the company said in a news release.

With eyes on the OPC contract in addition to the Marine Corps’ Light Amphibious Warship (LAW), Austal broke ground on its new steel facility last March.

“This contract award is the result of our continued investment in our people and our facilities. We are honored the Coast Guard has selected our team of shipbuilders to deliver its most important acquisition program,” Rusty Murdaugh, the president of Austal USA, said in the news release. “We are also thrilled for our community and our tremendous supplier base as this program will provide our shipbuilding team the backlog and stability for continued growth.”

The award comes after the Coast Guard in 2019 decided to recompete the OPC contract due to delays at Eastern Shipbuilding Group, which had difficulty meeting its contract obligations following damage the Panama City, Fla., yard suffered in 2018 from Hurricane Michael, USNI News reported at the time. Eastern Shipbuilding is on contract to build the first four OPCs.

HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., which builds the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, also bid for the OPC recompete.

HII entered this competition with a solid commitment to support our Coast Guard partners in building this important part of their fleet. Although we are very disappointed in the Offshore Patrol Cutter stage 2 decision, we remain committed to serving the Coast Guard on the National Security Cutters we are currently building, and look forward to opportunities to support this valued customer in the future,” Kimberly Aguillard, a spokesperson for Ingalls, said in a statement. “As demonstrated by our recent launch and recovery of an [Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle] with Pharos in Pascagoula River, HII and Ingalls Shipbuilding are hyper focused on growing and continuing to innovate and demonstrate capabilities in support of our customers.”

The Coast Guard is slated to buy 25 Heritage-class OPCs for its program of record, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The new OPCs will replace the Reliance-class and Famous-class Medium Endurance Cutters.

Ever Forward finally moves on

Five hundred containers were removed from the Ever Forward to lighten its load and help salvage crews refloat the vessel stuck in Chesapeake Bay.

The Ever Forward was refloated in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay on Sunday, 35 days after it ran aground shortly after sailing from the Port of Baltimore. 

“Refloating the Ever Forward, which was hard aground outside of the navigation channel along the entire length of the ship’s hull, required extensive coordination of responders and involved the development and implementation of a comprehensive salvage plan, including dredging and push-and-pull tugboat operations,” the U.S. Coast Guard, which coordinated the salvage efforts with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Evergreen Marine Corp., said in a statement. 

The 1,095-foot-long Ever Forward, built in 2020, was carrying 4,964 containers when it ran aground March 13. The laden ship got stuck in mud and two earlier efforts to refloat the container ship were unsuccessful because salvage crews were not able to “overcome the ground force of the Ever Forward in its loaded condition,” the Coast Guard said. 

Dredging was conducted to a depth of 43 feet and crane barges were used to remove 500 containers from the vessel. The containers were returned to the Seagrit Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore and offloaded. 

With the help of two pulling barges and six tugs, the Ever Forward was freed at about 7 a.m. Sunday.

“The vastness and complexity of this response were historic, as an incident like the Ever Forward grounding in type and duration is a rare occurence,” said Capt. David O’Connell, commander of Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region.

The Coast Guard said the Ever Forward would be towed to the Annapolis Anchorage Grounds for inspection and then reload the 500 containers at the Port of Baltimore and continue its planned voyage to the Port of Virginia. No berthing date at the Port of Virginia was given. 

The grounding of the Ever Forward drew international attention because of the spectacle it created in Chesapeake Bay as well as its name. Another Evergreen container ship, the Ever Given, disrupted the global supply chain when it was stuck for a week in the Suez Canal in March 2021. 

The Ever Forward, which has a carrying capacity of 11,850 twenty-foot equivalent units and is used on the Ocean Alliance’s Asia-U.S. East Coast service, had called Colon, Panama, and Savannah, Georgia, before sailing to Baltimore.

Read more

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Ever more speculation about Evergreen groundings

Maritime authority Lars Jensen says the “reality is that vessels do at times get stuck and this is not an event with major global ramifications.”

#EverForward, #EverGiven, #EverStuck. There have been many comparisons on social media this week between two Evergreen Marine container ships that, almost a year apart, became stuck while laden with cargo. 

The Ever Forward ran aground Sunday night in Chesapeake Bay after departing from the Port of Baltimore. As of late Thursday afternoon, the container ship, with a carrying capacity of 11,850 twenty-foot equivalent units, still had not been refloated. On March 23, 2021, another Evergreen Marine vessel, the 20,000-TEU Ever Given became wedged between the banks of the Suez Canal and brought traffic on the waterway to a standstill for a week. 

“But this is one of those events which should not be blown out of proportion,” Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Marine, cautioned in a LinkedIn post. “Ever Forward gives many associations to Ever Given and the Suez blocklage last year. But [the] reality is that vessels do at times get stuck and this is not an event with major global ramifications.”

The Ever Given’s weeklong Suez Canal shutdown greatly affected global maritime trade. The International Chamber of Shipping said the blockage of the canal cost $5.1 billion in world trade per day.

Jensen said while it appears it’s going to take time before the Ever Forward is refloated, it is not blocking Chesapeake Bay traffic. “Hence the problem is confined for now to the shippers unlucky to have cargo onboard the vessel.” 

William P. Doyle, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, confirmed in an email to American Shipper late Thursday afternoon that the Ever Forward’s location just off Gibson Island near the Craighill channel was not preventing other ships from transiting to or from the Port of Baltimore. 

“Business and commerce-related activities at the Port of Baltimore continue as normal,” Doyle said. 

He said the U.S. Coast Guard is overseeing and coordinating federal, state and local resources as they work to free the Ever Forward. 

“Technical experts have been onboard and have been surveying the vessel since Monday,” Doyle said. “A salvage team, naval architects and divers are working to determine the best course of action to free the ship.”

Sal Mercogliano, a Campbell University department chair and frequent FreightWavesTV guest, said the freeing of the Ever Forward will be difficult. He illustrated the similarities and differences between the Ever Forward and Ever Given situations in a 40-minute “What’s Going on With Shipping?” episode.

“The vessel, unlike Ever Given, is not aground just at the bow and stern. She’s completely aground, meaning she has rammed up onto a shoal, an embankment, meaning all underneath, the entire length of the hull, is sitting on ground,” Mercogliano said.

He said one option to free the ship would involve repeated steps of dredging and pulling the Ever Forward. That would be “a long, laborious operation,” one complicated by the fact that the container ship is listing to the portside, which means there is a potential for the Ever Forward to roll.

On top of that, the Ever Forward is compressing into mud, according to Mercogliano. “She’s in a pretty bad situation.”

Meanwhile, the grounding of the Ever Forward leaves the Ocean Alliance — Evergreen, CMA CGM, Cosco and OOCL — one vessel short on its Asia-U.S. East Coast service. 

“It was supposed to continue up to New York for final discharge and load and then go back through the Panama Canal to Xiamen, Kaohsiung, Hong Kong and Yantian to pick up cargo in mid-April,” Jensen said. 

In the case of the Ever Given, it was tied up in inspections and legal proceedings long after it was freed from the Suez Canal. It would be four months after it was refloated before it arrived at its destination, the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. 

Container ship runs aground in Chesapeake Bay

Car carrier — and Bentleys, Porsche and Lamborghinis — sinks

Ever Given containers finally being offloaded at Port of Rotterdam

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Container ship runs aground in Chesapeake Bay

The Coast Guard said it is working with the Maryland Department of the Environment to refloat the grounded Ever Forward.

The Coast Guard said Monday it is coordinating efforts with the Maryland Department of the Environment to refloat a 1,095-foot container ship that ran aground in Chesapeake Bay on Sunday after departing from the Port of Baltimore.

The Coast Guard said its Maryland-National Capital Region sector received the initial report from the Ever Forward at 9 p.m. Sunday that it had grounded near Craighill Channel. According to initial reports, there were no injuries or indications of pollution or damage to the vessel as a result of the grounding. 

The Ever Forward is not obstructing the navigational channel but vessels operating in the vicinity are being required to follow one-way traffic and transit at a reduced speed, the Coast Guard said. 

According to MarineTraffic, the Ever Forward was en route to Norfolk, Virginia. The container ship was built in 2020 and has a carrying capacity of 11,850 twenty-foot equivalent units. VesselFinder data shows the Ever Forward called Colon, Panama, on Feb. 27, Savannah, Georgia, on March 4 and the Port of Baltimore on Saturday. 

Car carrier — and Bentleys, Porsches and Lamborghinis — sinks

Chief officer’s ballast level error blamed for Golden Ray capsizing

Ever Given containers finally being offloaded at Port of Rotterdam

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Coast Guard Weathering Cutter Production Delays as More Coasties Head to Sea

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The top Coast Guard officer remains optimistic at the pace of expanding the fleet of cutters despite delays in design and construction that have pushed back the expected delivery date of the first new polar icebreaker. “We pushed the delivery date into the spring of 2025. We were hoping for a […]

Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, speaks to attendees at the 2022 West conference in San Diego, Feb. 18, 2022. US Coast Guard Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The top Coast Guard officer remains optimistic at the pace of expanding the fleet of cutters despite delays in design and construction that have pushed back the expected delivery date of the first new polar icebreaker.

“We pushed the delivery date into the spring of 2025. We were hoping for a ’24 date,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told USNI News on Friday.

Pascagoula, Miss.-based Halter Marine Inc. has contracts to design and build the first two of three planned Polar Security Cutters (PSC). A $745.9 million contract was issued in April 2019 for the lead cutter, and officials, at the time, planned for delivery in 2024 and hoped incentives might push the work to finish earlier with a 2023 delivery. A $552.7 million contract for the second cutter was issued in December 2021.

“We’re working with VT Halter – that’s the shipbuilder in Pascagoula. We’re hoping at some point later this year to start cutting steel components. It’s a complicated ship,” said Schultz, adding the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a wrench into the timeline and initial plans for the design and construction of the cutter.

“It was ambitious, arguably. You could say to build a ship like [that is] probably a 10-year work,” said Schultz, following the service chiefs’ town hall session on the final day of WEST 2022, a three-day defense conference co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.

An artist’s rendering of VT Halter Marine’s winning bid for the US Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter. VT Halter Marine Image

“We tried to squeeze it down to a six-year work, and then we overlay the pandemic on that. I’m guardedly optimistic we can take acceptance in ’25, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get that energy going,” he said. “They’re going to be great ships – 460-foot, 23,000 tons. It’s going to be conventional power, but this one will give us access in the high latitudes beyond what we’ve ever held before.”

The service had “made a couple of changes, in fairness to the whole balance of stuff that we want to work in there, as we think through the requirements more over time,” he added.

The current operational fleet of icebreakers consists of the 46-year-old USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) – the only heavy icebreaker in the U.S. – and the 420-foot, medium polar icebreaker, USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), which the service commissioned in 2000.

That small but critical U.S. pair of icebreakers will get a huge reprieve when the planned fleet of three new polar cutters arrive, along with three planned new medium icebreakers called the Arctic Security Cutters (ASC). Those icebreakers, along with the 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutters that will replace the medium endurance cutter, are among the service’s highest priorities.

Modernizing and expanding the fleet is important for the Coast Guard to maintain its readiness and ability to meet its missions, which span a range from marine safety and rescue to seaport protection and law enforcement operations. All that comes from a budget of just $13 billion, a fraction of the Navy’s and for a service that can be called upon in wartime.

“We pack a lot of punch in the homeland game,” Schultz told the conference audience.

And it’s not just in U.S. waters close to home, as Coast Guard units also support geographic combatant commanders and interact with other nations’ navies and coastal patrol entities. A key mission of late is illegal, illicit and under-reported fishing in nations’ exclusive economic zones that are threatened by “three or four major nation-states that are fishing, depleting the waters along coastal region. It’s an ecological and environmental issue. It destabilizes the economies of coastal states,” Schultz said.

“We are positioning our force to be ready to support the numbered fleets and the COCOMS,” he added, “and really focus on the domestic game.”

More Coasties to Sea

USCGC Thetis (WMEC-910) and a Royal Moroccan Navy vessel are seen during the joint rescue of migrants in the Atlantic Ocean on Jan. 5, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

The Coast Guard is shifting some 2,000 billets in the coming years to sailing billets, largely to support the additional cutters. It might push the active force population somewhat beyond the 42,000 personnel currently, Schultz told USNI. “They’ll be some end-strength increase beyond that,” but it’s not clear yet how that will bear out.

Schultz, who took the helm of the Coast Guard on June 1, 2018, is in his final four months’ as commandant, typically a four-year tenure. Whether the end-strength should land above 42,000 “is probably a conversation the 27th commandant’s team probably needs to think about,” he said.

Leaner budgets in recent years resulted in less buying power, Schultz said, “and now we’re starting to turn the corner in the last three or four years. It’s a different conversation when you get enough resources to start talking about growing people again. When you’re sort of not getting funded well to run the Coast Guard that you have, additional growth on top of that can sometimes almost even exacerbate the challenge.

“So I think right now we’re at that point to start saying, hey is the Coast Guard at the right size? What would be the right size if you’re thinking about a number?”

“We’re going to field 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters. There’s going to be some growth with that,” he added. “We’re going to create a cyber rating, so there will be some growth with that.”

The Coast Guard’s recent creation of a cyber rating will draw some existing information systems technicians (IT) and intelligence specialists (IS) as well as electronics technicians (ET) into new roles and assignments as cyber specialists. They may include boatswain’s mates and machinist’s mates.

“The model we’re probably going to embrace is you come into the force, and you probably rise up to… notionally maybe an E-5 and you move into the cyber rating. Sort of like what we do with divers,” Schultz told USNI News.

Budget and Investments

Coast Guard Cutter Midgett (WMSL 757), right, meets Coast Guard Cutter Kimball (WMSL 756) off Diamond Head Aug. 16, 2019. Kimball, the seventh National Security Cutter built for the Coast Guard, is scheduled for a unique dual-commissioning ceremony with Midgett, the eighth NSC, at both cutters’ new homeport in Honolulu Aug. 24, 2019. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson.

The Coast Guard has received nine of 11 National Security Cutters (NSC), which are replacing the aging high endurance cutters, and the 10th will be christened on June 4, Schultz told the audience. It’s part of a changing fleet that will include 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters and 64 Fast Response Cutters, up from the current 48 boats. Phase two of the OPC contract will be awarded “in the coming months,” Schultz said.

The growing fleet requires some investment to sustain.

“What’s the sustainability going to look like, and can we sustain our ships?” Schultz said. “We tend to be a commercial off-the-shelf type of organization, not a lot of leading-edge type of technology as we’re looking for proven technology in the sustainment piece.”

In addition, “we are going to be awarding a contract for the Waterways Commerce Cutter, that’s a fleet of 30 vessels, three different derivatives, to work the coastal and inland waterways of the nation. So we’re excited where we’re at.”

The Coast Guard’s capital programs, Schultz added, “have been on a pretty good trajectory for a good part of a decade, and we’ve got to maintain momentum. We need a predictable and stable funding. That’s not always the case in Washington. But we’ve been more stable there than we have been on the operating and support side of then Coast Guard budget.”

The service falls within the Department of Homeland Security.

Officials have been “having conversations” with the past and current administrations “that we really need to start funding the Coast Guard that the nation needs,” he said.

Ship repairs are critical to sustaining the fleet but remain one area of concern.

“We’re competing for some of those shipyard availabilities with the Navy, which is coming in with bigger ships, deeper pockets, bigger contracts,” Schultz said.

That can lead to delays in contracted work.

”We’re finding it very competitive. I will tell you I am concerned about the capacity” of the shipyards, he said, and “we also compete with the commercial sector.”

“We’re meeting our needs – but it’s barely – and it’s a lot of juggling of schedules,” he added.

Maintaining decades-old vessels has other challenges. Schultz offered, as an example, the Polar Star.

“On our 45-year-old heavy icebreaker, we’ve got to figure out sometimes how we find a part on eBay… can we legally buy that part?” he told the audience, noting that at times, “it takes really creative contracting work to buy the parts we need.”

Infrastructure Needs

Chief Petty Officer Shane Witko, the engineering petty officer assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico, leads a deck evolution with the Pamlico crew on U.S. Coast Guard Base New Orleans in New Orleans, Louisiana on Nov. 10, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

The Coast Guard got $434 million in last year’s Infrastructure bill for some new construction and facilities improvements. But funding still falls short in what is needed to support its shore infrastructure.

“We’ve got to get after the lagging infrastructure challenge,” Schultz said.

Older facilities, piers and docks, all subjected to the wear from climate and environmental impacts, need replacement or refurbishment that aren’t always funded in the federal budget. A 2019 GAO report estimated construction and maintenance backlogs totaled $2.6 billion, and some 45 percent of shore infrastructure is beyond its service life.

“We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas. If there’s a trade-off between modernizing and readiness, I’d say in our service, I’m not offering that maneuver space yet,” Schultz said. “I’m saying we need to continue the momentum on our capitalization programs, recap programs, and we need to keep pressing in on the readiness piece – that’s the human part of that. We’ve talked a lot about ships and capabilities. We really need to focus on the recruit, train and retain of our Coast Guardsmen, and then we really need to press in on our infrastructure.”

Work is underway to build a new Coast Guard air station in California’s central coast, with Coast Guard Air Station Ventura that’s slated to open in August 2023 on land at Naval Base Ventura County.

“We’ve got a shovel in the ground, It’s the first new air station we’ve commissioned in decades, so we’re excited about that,” he said.

The $53 million facility will include a 48,000-square-foot hangar and a 12,200-square-foot administration and berthing facility to support four MH-65 Dolphin helicopters and 82 personnel.

Coast Guard crews had operated Dolphin helicopters from an air facility at Los Angeles International Airport to support missions along the Southern California coast before they got bumped by airport expansion, so in September 2016, air station operations relocated to temporary facilities at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. The new air station will be the third major air facility in California, which includes air stations in San Diego and San Francisco.

Retention and Recruiting

Capt. Kathy Felger, commanding officer of Training Center Cape May, and members of the recruit ceremonial honor guard participate in a Veterans Day ceremony in the City of Cape May, N.J., Nov. 11, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

The force remains a deployable one, with major assets programmed to be at sea 185 days a year, “so you’re gone about half a year,” Schultz said, noting “it’s a lot. What we’re losing is in-port” time, and Coasties, after days on patrol, often remain as busy going to school rather than being on downtime.

The Sea Duty Readiness Council, led by several vice admirals, “is looking at what does it take to bring some balance to that. We’re putting some mission assurance, more maintainers, wrench-turners, some more folks there,” he added. Among the council’s focus is “identify longer-term opportunities to further enhance life at sea, including examining in-port workload requirements, enhancing education opportunities for cuttermen, and advocating for other new initiatives,” according to the Coast Guard.

The Reserve force was deployed about 50 percent in 2021, “a pretty unsustainable rate every year,” Schultz said. They responded to some of the 20-plus hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, a record, as well as assisted with COVID-19 vaccination programs and helped Afghan refugees that arrived in the states.

“Writ large, we’ve got to focus on the Coast Guardsmen standing the watch and his or her family,” Schultz said, noting the service has added 13 psychiatrists and other medical mental health professionals to boost mental health capacity. “We’ve got to do more of that. We’ve got to support the force we have and we’ve got to recognize the demands on them.”

That includes finding ways to bridge the gaps in housing (BAH) rates and living expenses in high-priced regions, as well as work with those officials who determine BAH rates.

Like its military counterparts, the Coast Guard has to compete to recruit young people and fill the 4,200 spots – 3,600 active, 600 reservists – each year to maintain the force.

“We have not hit that mark in recent years,” Schultz said.

The services are drawing from a population that is less interested in joining and less qualified to serve, Schultz said.

“We don’t have the deepest pockets, so I don’t throw a lot of bonuses,” he said.

He wants recruiters to be more mobile and reach out to different communities, with goals of enlisting 35 percent women and 35 percent of “under-represented Americans” into the service.

“We’re trying to broaden the Coast Guard to look more like the nation,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy welcomes two hundred and ninety-one young women and men to the Class of 2025 for Day One, June 28, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., is one of the “bright spots,” with women representing 40 percent of cadets “and marching toward 50,” he added. These are among some of the demographic gaps closed in recent years through efforts, including a women’s retention study done with Rand Corp. and completed in 2019.

Overall, Schultz said, “we’ve got the highest retention in any of the armed services. We’re trying to even get that higher. But it’s a tricky environment. I think all of the uniformed services don’t know the impacts of this blended retirement system that hit the four-year anniversary on 1 January” on retention in the near- and long-term. That includes the retirement system’s impacts on families, including those with working spouses, he said.

“We’ve aligned tour lengths with dual-member Coast Guard folks and we’ve guaranteed people co-location at the O-4 and below level and E-6 and below level,” he said. “I think those things are starting to mine some positive results for us.”

Schultz said he soon will sign the “Ready Workforce 2030,” a strategic vision with initiatives about how the Coast Guard will train, support and retain the total workforce. The workforce includes 9,000 civilians.

Among the ideas are retaining Coasties in sought-out billets, such as cyber professionals, that might be hard to fill and sustain.

“We invest a lot of money in them. They might see opportunities outside the fenceline for more money in Silicon Valley,” he said. “Maybe I can figure out a way where they don’t have to come back for one weekend a month and drill in the reserves. Maybe they come back one time a year.”

“We’ve just got to take a different approach here,” he added. “We’re leaning hard. Ready Workforce 2030 is going to capture some of that different agility, different flexibility.”

Coast Guard Struggling with Southern California ‘Costal Awareness Gap’ as Maritime Smuggling Rises

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Grappling with a rise in maritime smuggling in recent years off Southern California, Coast Guard Sector San Diego officials have reached out to the tech industry for ideas and products that will close gaps in and expand maritime domain awareness. “We’ve faced a major increase in smuggling,” Capt. Tim Barelli, commander […]

A crew member from the Coast Guard Cutter Munro stands watch over seized contraband during a drug offload from the cutter in Alameda, California, March 23, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Grappling with a rise in maritime smuggling in recent years off Southern California, Coast Guard Sector San Diego officials have reached out to the tech industry for ideas and products that will close gaps in and expand maritime domain awareness.

“We’ve faced a major increase in smuggling,” Capt. Tim Barelli, commander of Sector San Diego, told an audience on the first day of WEST, a three-day defense industry conference hosted by USNI and Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. Incidents of smuggling have doubled, year over year, in the past three years, “and I’m doing that with the same amount of people, same amount of helicopters and same amount of small boats. So that is my biggest challenge.”

Barelli said he is hoping that advances in technologies, to include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that can continually collect and generate information and intelligence, will close what he calls “a coastal awareness gap.”

“It’s a term we’ve coined at Sector San Diego to mean that there is a challenge to fully understand and see the maritime domain and have that awareness of what’s going on” offshore and then to be able to address it, he said.

That gap isn’t about not having enough people or helicopters or patrol boats.

“I want to optimize my existing resources better,” said Barelli, a naval aviator and helicopter pilot by training. Existing networks of sensors help provide that picture of what’s happening offshore, and the Department of Defense – to include the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet and its ships and aircraft – “is a key partner in this awareness of closing the coastal awareness gap,” he said.
“What I need is the ability to use ISR, the ability to use the latest technology, to see what’s going on offshore” and optimize the capabilities of Coast Guard crews and their boats and aircraft to “get a better picture of what’s going on offshore,” he added. Then, “I can see those sources of maritime disorder and address it.”

Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750) crewmembers inspect a low-profile semi-submersible in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean Aug. 14, 2020. US Coast Guard Photo

Last year, Sector San Diego developed the Southern California (SoCal) Maritime Domain Awareness Innovation Cell that’s something of an “umbrella” for demonstrations of existing technologies and ideas. “We partner (and) try to fuse together industry, academia and other DoD and federal partners to use an existing technology that’s out there and incorporate it into operations that I can control at the sector level,” he said.

While he has no acquisition authorities, Barelli said his message to companies is: “If you want to test out your technology, I have a place where we can incorporate your technology into an existing operation to really determine if it’s useful or it’s not.”

The MDA initiative earned the sector an award from the National Maritime Intelligence Office for the effort “to coalesce tech industry, sensor operations, the national defense industrial complex and academia into this entity at the local level,” Barelli said. “We are trying to make change at the local level that is having national implications – and it’s working.”

Promising, new tech can’t come soon enough for the San Diego sector, which stretches 80 miles north from the U.S.-Mexico border and 200 miles to the west. The sea corridors busy with commercial shipping, military training and fishing and recreational vessels also see an increasing amount of smugglers moving illicit drugs, contraband and people into the U.S.

“There is a threat – a persistent threat – of illicit activity going on from south to north,” Barelli said.

Three cartels are battling over control in Tijuana, a heavily populated area just across the land border that’s grappling with record-high murder rates. Greater enforcement along the U.S. land border has prompted cartels to use the open ocean to ferry drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, contraband and smuggle people. Coast Guard units have encountered mini-submarines used to move drugs, pangas overloaded with people, drugs or both and recreational boats carrying illicit cargoes that blend in among other traffic on San Diego waters.

Coastguardsmen with Law Enforcement Detachment 407 (LEDET) offloads 11,400 pounds of cocaine and 9,000 pounds of marijuana in San Diego, Feb. 1, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

Often, those smuggling attempts end deadly. Last year, a panga carrying 33 people capsized in the waters near the entrance to San Diego Bay. Three people died in the incident. The boat captain was arrested and prosecuted.

“Every smuggling event that is going offshore is a safety-of-life issue,” Barelli said, and not only a law enforcement at sea issue. Smugglers often pack the vessels, “one person per foot” of length, and the vessel often is not equipped to handle the weight and lacks any protection from the elements and weather out at sea.

Barelli showed the audience photos of smuggling vessels interdicted by the Coast Guard or found often empty ashore. He recounted one case last year where a crew member on a chartered fishing boat 90 miles off the coast noticed a light moving in the distance. The radar showed no vessels nearby. The boat’s lights soon shone on a panga, “broken down and adrift, 90 miles from shore,” with 20 or so people aboard.

“This is what keeps me awake at night,” he said.

Breaking the ice: Coast Guard’s vital role in maritime shipping

A Coast Guard commanding officer says the main goal of icebreaking is to “keep industry afloat and keep people employed.”

When it comes to smoothing out shipping lanes, the Coast Guard sure knows how to break the ice. It has ships specially designed to keep commerce — especially oil — flowing on America’s frozen waters during the winter.

“We’re helping keep facilities open and channels open for the movement of vessels,” Lt. Dan Jones, commanding officer of the icebreaker Thunder Bay, told FreightWaves. “The goal is meeting at least 95% of petroleum product deliveries on time during the ice season.”

Jones is in charge of one of the permanent crews operating aboard 23 icebreakers that are stationed in the continental U.S. His ship is stationed out of Rockland, Maine, and is currently deployed on the Hudson River.

Related: Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker on special Arctic mission

‘The business of America is business’

The abridged quote above from President Calvin Coolidge certainly applies to Coast Guard icebreaking. Jones said more than 85% of the nation’s heating oil — about 3 billion gallons each winter — is used by people in the Northeast. Ninety percent of that oil comes by barge on the Hudson River, the Coast Guard’s main area of operation in the Northeast.

“We have to make sure that these barges keep flowing up the river and get to the places they need to get to, especially the way we operate with our low inventory and just-in-time delivery,” Jones explained. “We’re never more than three or five days, if we turned off the proverbial fuel pipe, before we start running out of fuel at the end of the line.”

It’s part of the big picture painted by America’s marine economy, which contributed about $397 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2019. The sector grew faster than the nation’s economy as a whole, according to the first official Marine Economy Satellite Account released by two Department of Commerce agencies last June.

“If we can meet our goals of making sure these ships are moving on time, it can really keep industry afloat and keep people employed and keep money in their pockets,” Jones added.

The weight

Icebreaking typically starts in mid-December in the Northeast and lasts until late March or early April. Crews have to hustle, sometimes racking up more than 10,000 icebreaking hours a season and spending more than a week at a time on the Hudson before catching their breath.

They go through a solid month of preparation running the lakes and rivers in the fall while waters are “soft,” or unfrozen, as well as getting briefed on what to expect for the season.

“Since we started the ice season on Dec. 13, we have had about 370 vessels through the Hudson River,” Jones stated. “They’re moving petroleum products, scrap iron, salt, stone and asphalt.”

The Hudson averages 340 transits and 8.6 million barrels of petroleum a season, so activity has already been higher than normal.

The Great Lakes region also carries a lot of the weight, averaging 90 million tons of bulk cargo annually — iron ore, coal byproducts, limestone, coal, cement, salt, sand and grains — 15% of it during icebreaking season.

Measuring up

Most icebreakers range in length from 65 to 140 feet. However, the largest, the Polar Star, is nearly 400 feet long. Crew range from about seven members on the 65-footers to 18 on the 140-footers. The Mackinaw, a heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes, has a crew of 55, while the Polar Star boasts the largest crew, with 145 members.

Jones said much of the icebreaking tradition dates back to an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, giving the Coast Guard the mission of “meeting the reasonable demands of commerce.”

“The main factor for icebreakers is the design of the hull,” Jones said. “Most have a sloping stem and reinforcement through either thicker steel in an ice belt, or closer frame spacing.”

Most days are routine, but Jones mentioned one unusual situation that just popped earlier this month when six vessels got in a traffic jam. It happened on the Hudson, just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

Barge on the icy Hudson River with the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse in the foreground. (Photo: Colin D. Young/Shutterstock)

The vessels were carrying a total of 427,000 barrels of petroleum products. Four were heading downriver. The other two, a tug and a barge, were heading up river. Although the ice had been broken in the middle, the tug and barge duo were a bit wider than average and got stuck in thick ice on one side of the river. Crews called the Coast Guard for help.

“We ended up having them all stuck in this one little, tiny, less-than-a-mile area, and it required me coming in from behind on the outbound side and doing about 15 passes to widen the track and break up the ice next to these guys,” Jones recalled.

He got them moving after about an hour.

Along came COVID

Jones said there have been some COVID-19 complications during the past two ice seasons, but he’s been able to mitigate most of the disruptions.

“We’ve had times where we’ve had to keep one ship out longer or cover for another ship due to COVID outbreaks,” Jones explained. “It’s definitely something that has affected us.”

Fortunately, last year’s ice season was light and crews completed all of their icebreaking missions. Jones said there are currently no COVID-19 issues on Northeast ships.

Spring jams

Near the end of the season, as the early spring thaw begins, the icebreakers often have to clear ice jams to make sure rivers can flow unimpeded. This not only helps commercial vessels but protects the lives of people onshore.

Related: Glimmer of hope: Has the ship gridlock off ports finally peaked?

“A lot of times the ice breaks up in the upper parts of the rivers and flows down to where the river takes a few sharp turns. We call those chokepoints, where the ice tends to stack up and gets stuck there,” Jones explained. “There can be severe flooding for communities and areas along the river.”

Aging gracefully?

Perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of the icebreakers is age since they take a beating each season. The 65-footers are approaching 60 years of service and need either face-lifts or replacements. Despite overhauls, the 140-footers, built between 1979 and 1989, also need help.

“We try to find creative ways to make sure that we keep running and that we meet the mission. Some seasons we may lose two or three ships due to maintenance issues, and then the rest of us are running harder just to keep up and pick up the slack from the ships that are down,” Jones said.

There’s a bill in the Senate directing the Coast Guard to acquire a new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker that’s at least as capable as the Mackinaw. A contract has to be awarded for the work before moving forward. There are no bills related to new icebreakers for the Northeast.

The Polar Star runs icebreaking missions in the Arctic, which require intense training and often keep crews on deployments lasting five to six months. These missions are very rough on the ship as well as the crew.

Jones said the Coast Guard’s Arctic needs assessment identified the need for six new Arctic icebreakers, three medium and three heavy. But the soonest any of them may be ready is next year, followed by others in 2025 and 2026, pending congressional approval of funding.

“I think we need every single one of them,” Jones said.

He went on to say there will always be Arctic ice in the winter, despite global warming. The question is how long the Coast Guard can stretch the navigable season, which is dependent on the size of the fleet.

“It’s a much shorter distance across the Arctic than some of our conventional shipping routes,” Jones added. “So, if it’s navigable, it’s quickly going to be something that is enticing to shipping companies.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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About Five Percent of Active-duty Coast Guard Personnel Remain Unvaccinated; 206 Marines Separated for Vaccine Refusal

Nearly 5 percent of the Coast Guard’s active-duty personnel was unvaccinated as the service closed out the year. Approximately 94.4 percent of the active-duty workforce was fully vaccinated, while 95.3 percent had received the first shot of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, as of Dec. 27, Lt. Sondra-Kay Kneen, a spokesperson for the Coast […]

U.S. Marines stationed on Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, receive their COVID-19 vaccination on MCAS Yuma, Ariz., Feb. 16, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps Photo

Nearly 5 percent of the Coast Guard’s active-duty personnel was unvaccinated as the service closed out the year.

Approximately 94.4 percent of the active-duty workforce was fully vaccinated, while 95.3 percent had received the first shot of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, as of Dec. 27, Lt. Sondra-Kay Kneen, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard, told USNI News in an email.

The Coast Guard was not able to say how many exemptions have been granted, Kneed said.
The service has not yet separated anyone due to vaccine refusal, despite the Nov. 22 deadline.

The Navy has not officially separated anyone from the service either, although the executive officer of USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) was relieved due to failure to obey a lawful order. A Navy official told USNI News this was due to failure to be vaccinated against or tested for COVID-19.

Navy ROTC has not separated anyone due to vaccine refusal, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Chitty, a spokesperson for Naval Service Training Command.

The Coast Guard’s numbers are similar to that of the Marine Corps, which had 94 percent of its active-duty personnel fully vaccinated, as of Dec. 28, despite the deadline passing a month ago, according to the Marines’ COVID-19 update.

Like the Coast Guard, 95 percent of active-duty Marines are partially vaccinated. The percentage also includes those who are fully vaccinated.

The Marines fare worse with its reserve members. The deadline to be fully vaccinated for reservists was Dec. 28, when 83 percent of Marine reservists were considered fully vaccinated and 86 percent partially vaccinated.

The service approved 1,007 medical or administrative exemptions, with religious exemptions forwarded to the Manpower and Reserve Affairs Department for adjudication.

As of Dec. 28, 206 Marines had been separated due to refusal to take the vaccine, according to the update.

Top Stories 2021: Coast Guard

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021. The past year saw a shift in the Coast Guard, as the maritime service focused on retention, its global presence and new partnerships with the Marines and the Navy. In his third “State of the Coast Guard,” Adm. Karl Schultz […]

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz speaks to the attendees at the commissioning of the USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC-1145) in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, 2021. Coast Guard Photo

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021.

The past year saw a shift in the Coast Guard, as the maritime service focused on retention, its global presence and new partnerships with the Marines and the Navy.

In his third “State of the Coast Guard,” Adm. Karl Schultz spoke about the demand for the Coast Guard both at home and overseas.

Schultz signed the 2020 Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, also signed by Marine Corps and Navy leaders, which noted the Coast Guard’s global expansion.

Partnerships with Navy and Marines

Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Adak (WBP-1333), right, approaches amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) to conduct an underway refueling in the Persian Gulf on Feb. 13, 2021. US Army Photo

Under the 2020 Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, the Navy’s priority would be controlling the seas, while the Marine Corps focused on increased expeditionary combat power. The Coast Guard’s role would be its focus on more overseas outreach.

In 2021, the Coast Guard sent an attache to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, with another attache planned to be sent to Singapore in 2022.

The changes in the Coast Guard and the Marines might change how the two forces partner together, Shultz said.

That partnership will likely be helped by the force’s growing National Security Cutter fleet, which can do patrols and other work that might help free up Navy ships.

The Coast Guard will be establishing more seagoing billets as it builds up the NSC fleet, Schultz said during a Heritage Foundation talk. Although those billets are attractive to members of the Coast Guard, there has to be a balance between overseas missions and ones at home.

Chinese concerns

A boarding team aboard an over-the-horizon cutter boat from Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC-717) transits toward Chinese-flagged fishing vessel Lurong Yuan Yu 899 as it offloads catch onto the Russian-flagged transshipment Vessel Pamyat in the North Pacific Ocean on July 15, 2019. US Coast Guard Photo

One major area of concern is China, Schultz said. China passed a law that went into effect on Feb. 1 that gave the Chinese coast guard more broad authorities.

The Chinese coast guard is the biggest in the world and tends to do more than coastal patrols.

In 2020, the Chinese fleet was near Ecuador, which raised concerns about illegal fishing.

That continues to be a concern for the Navy, as well as the Coast Guard, with Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro sounding the alarm during a Center for Strategic and International Studies talk that Schultz also attended.

The Coast Guard can bring awareness to illegal fishing through maritime law enforcement training and sharing information with coast guards and navies in affected areas, Schultz said during the talk.

The Arctic

Artist’s Rendering of Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

China, as well as Russia, continues to be a concern in the Artic. While the Trump administration requested the Coast Guard look into nuclear-powered icebreakers, the service declined to pursue them, USNI News reported in January.

Instead, Schultz focused on his “six-three-one strategy,” which calls for a minimum of six icebreakers, three of which need to be heavy. And the Coast Guard needed one right away, he said in January.


Petty Officer 1st Class Vince Bucaneg, a company commander for recruit company Golf-197, assists a recruit in meeting the Coast Guard physical fitness standards, March 15, 2019.
Official U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm.

As the Coast Guard looks toward 2022, retention will continue to be a problem, Schultz predicted during the Heritage Foundation talk.

Due to a new retirement system, personnel is able to leave the service earlier, with some choosing to do so due to the stability of not moving and increased salary.

In order to combat that, the Coast Guard will have to figure out ways to incentivize people to stay, which could be the overseas billets, he said.

The force is also concerned with diversity, looking to have more women join the Coast Guard, Schultz said in his most recent State of the Coast Guard address.

The force is currently about 15 percent women, although the percentage is higher at the Coast Guard Academy.

Cyber Breaches of Maritime Transportation System Caused by Stovepiped Software Designs, Expert Says

Cyber attacks on the global maritime transportation system – like last month’s breach at the port of Houston – should not be considered a digital Pearl Harbor surprise, a leading security expert said last week. Gary Kessler, of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative, pointed to a known problem of stovepiped software designs as a reason for […]

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew based out of Air Station Kodiak and deployed aboard Cutter Alex Haley, prepares for a helicopter in-flight refueling at sea evolution with the cutter crew during a search and rescue case near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. US Coast Guard Photo

Cyber attacks on the global maritime transportation system – like last month’s breach at the port of Houston – should not be considered a digital Pearl Harbor surprise, a leading security expert said last week.

Gary Kessler, of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative, pointed to a known problem of stovepiped software designs as a reason for why these types of breaches happen.

Speaking at the online Atlantic Council forum last week, Kessler asked rhetorically “why is the hacker community running circles around the software engineering community” in these breaches. He laid the responsibility on software engineers “not thinking through their designs” and how one design will work with others on extended networks.

Other panelists added that senior executives also need to be actively involved in seeing these systems as critically important to profitability, not just as routine accounting functions or personnel management.

Those networks extend to basic infrastructure – from telecommunications to electrical power to rail and road transportation on land. All are vulnerable to major security ransomware strikes like May’s attack on the major energy distribution system for the East Coast, Colonial Pipeline.

Complicating matters in the maritime transportation system in protecting its thousands of networks are “too few professional mariners” and “too few cyber professionals.”

Sean Kline, director of maritime affairs at the Chamber of Shipping of America, added that as an American mariner “you’re training constantly” to retain certification and advance. He noted companies also require more training to meet their specific requirements and those requirements differ between firms.

“Giving them a 20-minute video” on cyber security may check off a requirement box, but “is not addressing the core of the problem,” which can be found often in a business’ digital practices ashore.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. John Maugher, assistant commandant for prevention policy, said the service was “very sensitive [to] how much training we put on them [mariners]” ashore and afloat. He added the Coast Guard is stressing to maritime companies the risks they are accepting in having poorly designed software.

The idea is “getting [senior executives] to the understanding” that by accepting this situation as is, the decision “affects the bottom line.” He said particular attention must be paid to systems involving the ship’s stability, monitoring of cargo climate controls and navigation.

“We have to realize these attacks are going to happen” and there needs to be built in resilience and procedures and practices to restore system.

Maugher said the Coast Guard has made “cyber security an operational imperative” for its own networks and also extended that knowledge and experience into the private sector through its cyber protection teams.

He added those teams work with businesses not only in developing plans to improve cyber security but more importantly are “assessing … how well it is doing” in real-time.

Cyber security “is not a back office, IT function,” Maugher said. Cyber is also a national security issue, since 25 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product moves through the maritime transportation system.

Josie Long, cyber security consultant at MITRE corporation, said her work with industry includes identifying what functions are vital to their operations and must be hardened. What also is needed is business leaders recognizing across the private sector that it is to their benefit to have cross-pollination of best practices.

In keynote remarks at the forum, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said “we have to re-think our ideas of international conflict” when dealing with cyber actors by nation states, terrorists or criminals. He said “85 percent of the target space is in the private sector.”

King called for governments to do more “red-teaming” of problems jointly at all levels and with the private sector, including information sharing of what works and acknowledging breaches.

All sectors need to “realize [cyber strategy and plans] must constantly be updated,” he said.

The senator noted the disruption in international trade when operators lost control of the 20,000-ton Ever Given that closed the Suez Canal for a week in March and its impact on global economies during the pandemic.

With autonomous vessels on the horizon and a growing use of unmanned systems, the risks are growing.

“You’re going to have to have some remote connection” to them for a host of functions from navigation onward and that connection would be vulnerable “to bad actors,” Kessler said.

Kline said members of the chamber have “just ID’d what was missing” in terms of cyber security for autonomous vessels, “but not what to do.”

He doubted whether ocean-going merchant vessels in the immediate future would be truly autonomous. But these vessels “might be drastically different than the 20ish we have aboard now.”