Alaska delegation cheers new coast guard ships to patrol state waters

Pictured: U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter (FRC), which arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) The cutter McCormick is the Coast Guard's first 154-foot Fast Response Cutter to be commissioned in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios.
By  | 

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Six new ships will be coming to Alaska following an in-depth study into their practical need conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The study, made at the behest of Alaska's congressional delegation to better equip the state with ships that can respond more swiftly to emergency needs in and around Alaska.

In a statement made Wednesday by Paul Zukunft, admiral in the USCG, he states that the "exhaustive feasibility study" showed a need of reinforcement in certain Alaska communities.

As a result, six ships will be sent to fill that need, including two fast response cutters, also known as FRCs in Kodiak, one FRC in Seward, and one FRC in Sitka in addition to the two FRCs which already arrived in Ketchikan.

Zukunft continued in his letter, stating that, “Additionally, our analysis indicated that the people of Southeast Alaska would best be served by two additional patrol boats. The Coast Guard will homeport a Coastal Patrol Boat in Petersburg and one in Juneau.”

Alaska leadership was fast to applaud the decision.

Sen. Sullivan, who, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee overseeing Coast Guard deployment, pushed for increased presence in what he called "the broadest possible search and rescue coverage, response capability, and maritime domain awareness throughout Alaskan waters."

Rep. Don Young similarly applauded the additional ships, saying in a statement that, "In Alaska, the Coast Guard plays a pivotal role in the well-being and security of our waters and our state every day. Ensuring that the Coast Guard has the most advanced and current systems available is absolutely essential to their work."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski thanked Zukunft, stating that, "Where we place our assets in order for them to be responsive is crucial not only from a national security perspective, but for fisheries enforcement and search and rescue missions as well.”

The six new cutters, or FRCs, were funded as part of a $340 million boon the USCG received in the military fiscal budget of 2018 in order to replace aging patrol boats.

The FRCs are bigger and can command a faster response possibility. However, the trade in effectiveness comes at a cost to infrastructure, as many of the same facilities that tethered and maintained the old patrol boats can't be used on the new FRCs.

Specifically in Kodiak, Seward, and Sitka, those facilities can't be used at all, and will need to be upgraded prior to the FRCs arrival, officials said.

Zukunft, as well as Murkowski and others, touched on this fact. "The vessels are larger than the 110 ft. patrol boats they will be replacing, meaning they also require larger and stronger docks with adequate amenities, maintenance support units and will be manned by bigger crews," Murkowski's spokesperson wrote in a news release.

In his Wednesday statement, Zukunft said a plan is in play to help bridge the support needed before those cutters can come to Alaska. "This plan requires significant infrastructure and local housing investments in the communities of Kodiak, Seward, and Sitka."

So for at least those three regions, the next step, before the FRCs can come to their new harbor homes, is more money to buy for bigger parking. Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday that the money, a $51.5 million figure, would also be portioned out of the 2018 budget "to support the vessels, crews, and their families."

Zukunft called on Alaska leadership for "continued support as we work with the Administration and Congress to request funding."