Posted by: arbeam | August 23, 2013

July 11: Tour of USCG Base Seattle

Seattle StationBASE_seatle_logoOn Thursday July 11, 2013 twenty six Navy Leaguers and guests gathered at US Coast Guard Base Seattle, Pier 36 for a tour .

Upon arrival we headed over to the USCG Galley for a delicious lunch.  The tour would not have been much fun on an empty stomach.  From there we reassembled in Building 4 for a most interesting presentation about USCG Arctic operations and related science programs.  There are presently 4 USCG ice breakers, with 3 assigned to Seattle (and one of those…USCGC Polar Sea… is out of service pending possible repair or replacement).  USCGC Healy left the day of the tour for a deployment and USCGC Polar Star was tied up along the pier.

The Healy in the Bering SeaThe icebreakers are largely used for ice breaking in conjunction with research and science projects for many organizations.  Communications are a challenge when operating Arctic because of limited satellite access above 75 degrees N.  Vibrations, particularly in the stern area, resulting from the constant shaking while breaking ice (up to 21’ thick for the Polar class) also pose challenges.  Some other missions performed are dredging, coring, setting moorings, and study of birds and copepods, as well as joint operations with Canada.  As global warming results in greater international accesses to the Arctic waters it becomes more significant that the US has only two operational icebreakers there, as compared to 32 for the Russians.

At the conclusion of the Arctic operations presentation we were introduced to newly arrived Sector Puget Sound Deputy Commander CAPT Joe Raymond.  We were then given an overview of sector operations.  Sector Puget Sound is part of the Pacific Area/13th District command.  Stations in the sector include Neah Bay, Port Angeles/SFO, Bellingham, Quillayute River and Seattle.  There are many operations assets.  Sector commander authorities include captain of the port, federal maritime safety coordinator, federal “on scene” coordinator, office in charge of maritime inspections, search and rescue mission coordination, and the joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC)…a broad area of significant responsibility with a huge footprint.

JHOC SeattleThe JHOC functions include Command Center, Communications Center and Cooperative Vessel Tracking Service (CVTS) and we proceeded to tour the Command Center and CVTS areas.  The command Center provides 24 hour command, control, coordination, communications, intelligence, sensor analysis and data mining for the sector.  The Command Center also coordinates with all federal, state and local operations centers and collaborates with agencies beyond the border on environmental, tribal, training, safety, natural disaster and public outreach matters.  The CVTS is also operational 24X7 and is operationally divided into thirds.  It is staffed by 50 % USXCG personnel and 50% civilians.  Personnel serve two hour watches during 12 hour shifts.  CVTS focuses on marine traffic safety and focuses on “prevention” through observation, monitoring and advising to avoid collisions.  There are specified areas of cooperative waterway management with Canada.

USCGC Midgett

Our final destination was the USCGC Midgett WHEC 726.  Midgett is a 358’ high endurance cutter commissioned in 1972 and is the last of 12 in class.  At 41 years old Midgett has become somewhat of a maintenance challenge, but from what we could see the challenge is being well met.  We were welcomed aboard by the Commanding Officer, CAPT Laura Dickey, a USCG Academy graduate, who also was our very informative tour guide. Midgett has a range of 11,000NM and carries a complement of about 184 officers and enlisted personnel. Propulsion is via two diesel engines and two turbines. Because the engines were apart for maintenance we were unable to visit the engine room but we did see the bridge, the galley and much of the rest of the ship. Armament is a 76 mm cannon on the bow and a Phalanx CIWS at the stern. Search and rescue, law enforcement and fishing enforcement are missions performed.  Due to reduced ice in the Arctic there is more marine activity there, which in turn is resulting in more USCG activity.  Midgett can patrol with the US Navy.  An interesting position is the lookout above the bridge, although probably not a fun place to be in heavy seas.  Breaking ice off the ship’s surfaces is a necessary function at times.

Our tour ended at this point so we thanked CAPT Dickey for her hospitality and headed for home.  Another wonderful tour set up by Byron Faber.  And much appreciation to everyone at USCG Base Seattle. – Norman Marten

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