Begich questions Coast Guard nominee on cutter retirement

Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

KETCHIKAN - U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is pressing the Coast Guard to account for a gap in marine safety that could be created between the decommissioning of the Cutter Acushnet and the arrival of a new "fast response" cutter.

Begich said the issue was "stressed pretty hard" during his meeting last week with Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp, the Obama administration's nominee to become Coast Guard commandant.

The Obama administration's proposed budget for federal fiscal year 2011 would decommission the Ketchikan-based Acushnet in spring 2011. A new fast-response cutter isn't expected in Ketchikan until 2014.

"As you can imagine, I'm somewhat concerned with that on two fronts," Begich told the Ketchikan Daily News. Besides safety, Begich said, there are 85 jobs associated with the cutter.

"I expressed this concern to him, and that we want to work with him to make sure that we limit that gap - if not eliminate that gap if at all possible," Begich said.

Begich said Papp was sympathetic.

"He couldn't pledge how to resolve that gap but recognized that he wants to work with us to see what we can do to move down that path," Begich said.

He said he asked Papp for more information about the delivery schedule for fast-response cutters.

The Acushnet is a 66-year-old World War II vintage cutter that has been home-ported in Ketchikan for more than a decade. The new Sentinel Class of fast-response cutters will be smaller than the 213-foot, medium-endurance Acushnet with a length of 153 feet and a crew of about 22.

Lt. j.g. Nadine Santiago told the newspaper by e-mail that the first delivery of new cutters will be home-ported in Miami, followed by six in Key West, Fla.

"Follow-on homeports will be determined as the delivery schedule unfolds," she said.

The Coast Guard has no plans to replace the Acushnet in fiscal year 2011, she said.

"The decision to station a replacement vessel in Ketchikan depends on the pace of the Coast Guard's ongoing recapitalization of major cutters and future operational requirements," Santiago said.

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