The six new Fast Response Cutters will be stationed in Kodiak, Seward, Sitka, and Ketchikan. They will replace some smaller island class cutters. The Coast Guard is also stationing two patrol boats in Juneau and Petersburg. Sitka’s cutter will be a new addition while the others will be replacements.
The new Fast Response Cutters will be 44 feet longer than the existing ones meaning that some of the communities will have to build up infrastructure to support docking them.
The U.S. Coast Guard says they made the decision to put the eight new vessels in Alaska based on their own in-depth studies.
Alaska’s Congressional Delegation has been advocating for the move. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan says he’s been supporting it as the Chairman of the Coast Guard Subcommittee. He says they were fighting to keep vessels in the smaller towns.
“I had been concerned that we were going to lose coverage particularly in the Southeast area ,” Sullivan said, “which we were going to lose coverage.”
An earlier plan of the Coast Guard called for downsizing Alaska’s cutters from seven to six, homeporting them in just a few communities. Sullivan says he worked closely with local mayors over the last three years to include more coverage area. But he says the time was right during the confirmation hearings of Vice Adm. Karl Schultz to be commandant of the Coast Guard. As the committee chairman, Sullivan says he was looking for definitive answers from Schultz.
“I actually specifically asked about Petersburg and he gave me a decent answer and then he kind of walked his answer back, if you watch the hearing,” Sullivan said. “And I found that to be an unacceptable answer. So, I put a hold on the Commandant’s nomination and I told him he wasn’t going to be moving anywhere until I got a better answer.”
Sullivan says the committee received the letter he was looking for 15 minutes before the deadline he had set. It was from the current U.S. Coast Commandant, Paul Zukunft, describing where the eight new ships would be stationed.
Sullivan credits Alaska’s mayors helping to advocate for keeping all the ships spread out in the state.
“We really closely strategized with all of them,” Sullivan said. “With regard to Petersburg, Mayor Jensen, I can’t say enough about how hard he worked on this.”
Petersburg’s new 87-foot patrol boat will be smaller than the current island-class cutter, Anacapa, and will lose three crew members. But the mission will be the same. They’ll both conduct commercial fishery law enforcement patrols, search and rescue and life-saving missions.
“So, that’s not exactly the same size as an island class cutter but it’s essentially 16 to 13 personnel, so it’s close,” Sullivan said.
The U.S. Coast Guard does not expect there to be any gap in time. The old vessels will be decommissioned only after the new ones arrive. That’s expected to be in about five years, except Ketchikan’s new cutters, which already arrived there last year.