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The Cutter that Dates Back to the Apollo Program

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The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active seizes one ton of cocaine from suspected drug smugglers in the eastern Pacific Ocean, May 18, 2018.

By U.S. Coast Guard News 2018-06-27 13:52:32

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon. Half a century later, the U.S. Coast Guard is still using the same technology to conduct modern-day operations.

The Coast Guard cutter Active, a 210-foot Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Washington, is the eighth Coast Guard vessel to bear the name and was officially commissioned Sept. 1, 1966 - almost three years before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.

Petty Officer First Class Victor Arcelay, a damage controlman and one of the cutter's 75 crew members, has the daunting task of keeping the Active, well — active.

“Imagine you have a ship that is 52, 53 years old, you have to deal with systems that are about the same age,” said Arcelay. “As everything advances, parts become obsolete and chasing down parts or trying to fix with what you have available is a challenge.”

The Active is currently operating well beyond her 30-year design service life. The Medium Endurance Cutter class is considered the backbone of the Coast Guard’s fleet; however, engineering challenges have plagued the operations of these vessels in recent years. There are many unique challenges to being the lead damage controlman aboard a cutter. It is damage control, not damage repair, says Arcelay.

“Reporting here has kept me busy and I’m happy for it,” said Arcelay. “I usually tell my wife she’s my one and only, but the ship is my mistress, because I spend so many hours on this ship it would make any wife jealous.”

Arcelay has 18 years of Coast Guard service under his belt, and he is at the end of his tour with the Active. He reports to Coast Guard Base Cape Cod in July. “I’m pretty sure this is the unit that taught me the most,” he said. “It’s made me a better person, a better damage controlman, a better technician, and I’ve done so much to this ship to help keep her afloat that I’m sure this unit has been the most helpful in my career.”

The Active returned June 1, 2018, from a 53-day counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. During the deployment, they interdicted three “panga” style vessels and one pleasure craft, seizing over three tons of narcotics and apprehending 11 suspected smugglers.

Despite aging platforms, Medium Endurance Cutter crews continue to patrol the drug transit zone in the Pacific Ocean off Central and South America with success. These crews stopped nearly a third of all drugs seized by the U.S. Coast Guard in FY2017, more than 138,000 pounds. Last year, the Coast Guard removed more than 493,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $6.6 billion, a new record for the service, up from 443,000 pounds of cocaine in FY2016.

“I’m incredibly proud of this crew and their accomplishments,” said Cmdr. Chris German, commanding officer of the Active. “The success of this patrol is a testament to their hard work and dedication. Just to keep a 52-year-old ship in prime condition is a feat in and of itself, and they have done that and much more.”

Medium Endurance Cutters are scheduled for replacement by the new Offshore Patrol Cutter, with construction of the first vessel slated to begin in 2018 and delivery of the first hull scheduled for 2021. The OPC is one of the Coast Guard’s highest priority acquisitions, and as a replacement for the aging Medium Endurance Cutters, the OPC will be the foundation of the Coast Guard’s offshore fleet and bridge the gap between the capability of the National Security Cutter and the Fast Response Cutter.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.