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Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast Retires After 56 Years in Service

USCGC Steadfast
USCGC Steadfast at her decommissioning ceremony in Astoria (USCG)

Published Feb 6, 2024 6:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Steadfast decommissioned last week in a ceremony at her home port of Astoria, Oregon. She had been in service for 56 years, more than twice the standard lifespan of a typical merchant ship. 

Over five-plus decades of service, Steadfast performed more than 330 search and rescue missions, seized about 28,000 pounds of cocaine, and intercepted over 3,500 migrants along the southern maritime boundary. She also seized 1.6 million pounds of marijuana, which was once an enforcement priority.

Steadfast's crew returning from a previous drug-hunting mission (USCG)

Steadfast has been scheduled for decommissioning for some time, and she finished her final voyage on December 18. But like so many well-kept Coast Guard cutters, this end may just be another beginning for her. Steadfast will transit to Baltimore, where she will be made available for sale to allied governments under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Countless Coast Guard vessels have entered an active retirement overseas through this transfer route. 

“The cutter Steadfast has been a stalwart ship for the Coast Guard, frequently conducting lifesaving missions, contributing to our national security and protecting our Marine Transportation System.” said Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, deputy commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area. “I am immensely proud of Steadfast’s crew for their dedication to duty while enhancing our nation’s maritime safety and security throughout the Pacific Ocean.”

Steadfast is one of the service's 16 Reliance-class cutters, also known as the 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutters. They are among the oldest vessels in the service: First-in-class USCGC Reliance is still in commission and turns 60 years old this year. 

The Medium Endurance Cutters (also including the Famous-class) are overdue to be replaced by the new Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). Production of the OPC has been delayed by a variety of challenges, and part of the contract was rebid to a new shipyard. 

In the interim, some of the WMECs are scheduled for decommissioning without one-to-one replacement. Courageous, Durable, Decisive and Steadfast have already exited the service. This year, three more 210-foot WMECs are entering layup on an accelerated schedule pending decommissioning. Because of a serious recruiting shortfall, the Coast Guard is undermanned by about 10 percent, and it has decided to reduce the size of the active cutter fleet rather than attempt to run all its vessels shorthanded. 

According to Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan, COVID took a toll on recruitment, creating part of the deficit that the service is digging out of today. The good news, Fagan said at a forum last year, is that the recruiting numbers are starting to rebound in "significant and positive ways" - and the people who are signing up are the people that the Coast Guard wants.