First USCG Fast Response Cutter west of Mississippi River enters service in Alaska

U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter John McCormick and crew make way to their home port at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan in Ketchikan, Alaska, on March 17, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska has a new resident, and it’s in place to help the United States Coast Guard save lives in the Last Frontier.

Commissioned and officially put into service just days ago, U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter John McCormick arrived in Alaska in March, docking at its new home port at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

The cutter and its crew made it to the 49th state after making the 6,200-mile journey from its previous home in Key West, Florida.

"We are pleased to welcome the crew of the new Fast Response Cutter John McCormick to the Ketchikan community," said Capt. Shannan Greene, commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau, upon the ship's arrival to Alaska. "The new cutter and its crew will provide greater service for the southeast Alaska area and its maritime communities."

FRC John McCormick is the first Fast Reponse or Sentinel-class Cutter on the West Coast, and the first to be stationed west of the Mississippi River. Coast Guard officials said the 154-foot vessel will provide increased capabilities compared to smaller 110-foot boats that it replaces.

"This means a lot," said Joseph Petry, Executive Officer onboard FRC John McCormick. "We're very excited to be part of the crew on the first FRC cutter here in Alaska.

"Now, it's time to see exactly what we can use these capabilities for to exercise up here in Alaska," he said.

FRC John McCormick has capabilities that many of the Coast Guard vessels in Alaska did not. There's increased range and increased speed, in addition to other major - and modernized - features.

"We can go out 2,500 nautical miles, we can maintain 28-plus knots," Petry said. "When we're responding to a case, if we're heading in any direction, we can get there faster and stay there longer."

Previously, there were only island-class cutters and patrol boats. Those were built about 30 years ago, and now the agency is beginning to phase in equipment with new, more modern platforms.

"The other improvement there is we have a fantastic command and control system," Petry said. "Some of those smaller boats were doing about 1,800 hours a year, operationally. We're designed to do 2,500 operational hours a year.

"So we're going to be out there, doing these Coast Guard missions, and putting in more hours," he said.

When asked what prompted the adjustment to the fast response cutters - for example, the disappearance of F/V Destination - Petry said there wasn't a particular incident that triggered the change.

"There wasn't any one instance that drove the cutters to be brought here to Alaska," he said.

The Coast Guard is planning on bringing six FRC ships total to Alaska.

"This first crew onboard here," Petry said, "we've been getting some outstanding training, to be able to utilize all these tools and assets we have on board."

FRC Bailey Barco is already on its way to the Last Frontier and is set to begin operating this coming summer.

The fast response cutters are being named after Coast Guard heroes. FRC John McCormick was named after Boatswain John McCormick, who received a Gold Lifesaving Medal on March 26, 1938, when he rescued Surfman Robert Bracken. Bracken had fallen overboard from the motor lifeboat Triumph at the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington state.

U.S. Coast Guard photo of FRC John McCormick