U.S. COAST GUARD
A new 33-foot Special Purpose Craft–Law Enforcement (SPC–LE) boat from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas,
chases down a 27-foot Guardian small boat, also from Station South Padre Island, during training in the Gulf of Mexico. The
SPC-LEs have a top speed of more than 50 knots and are intended to improve the station’s law enforcement capabilities.
“We are out there for an extended period of time
and accidents happen when crews are tired. The wide
beam on this boat, coupled with the shock-mitigating
seats, climate control, air [conditioning] and [heat]
helps mitigate some of that crew fatigue and … keep
the crews fresher for a longer period of time,” Burke
said. “Hopefully, by keeping the crews fresh like that,
we can avoid accidents related to crew fatigue.”
The New York metropolitan area was chosen to use
some of the SPC–LEs largely because it has numerous
high-profile events with special security requirements,
according to Burke. During the past 12 months, New
York had visits by the Pope, President George W. Bush,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iraqi
President Jalal Talabani.
Down south, Chief Warrant Officer Morgan Dudley,
commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Key West,
said he “loves” the new craft and thinks it’s one of the
best platforms the service has ever had. His station had
the Defender-class boat, but it was replaced by the
SPC–LE two years ago.
“They have made a big impact as far as the illegal migrants that come in. It’s put us back in the game as far as
being able to keep up with some of these go-fast vessels,”
which have four 300-horsepower engines, Dudley said.
“The thing that has gone down is the success of
them making landfall,” he said of the go-fasts.
There are three Coast Guard stations along the Florida
Keys, and during the past two years they have combined
to stop more than 650 go-fast vessels, Dudley said.
Key West is roughly 100 miles from Cuba. Dudley
said the area sees a high number of go-fast vessels com-
pared to other Coast Guard jurisdictions.
There also has been a decrease it the number of violent encounters after a boat is stopped. During the past
six months, there have been two occasions when the
Coast Guard approached a boat and a shooting
occurred. In the 18 months prior to that, shots were
fired on eight occasions according to Dudley.
“Now, [for] most of the boats, as soon as we get on
the scene they stop and are compliant,” Dudley said.
He attributed the improvements to the new boat
and stricter migrant laws.
Dudley’s station also uses the SPC–LE for public
waterways and coastal security missions.
“The craft’s only negatives are that it’s more tailored
toward law enforcement missions and not capable of
doing several different [missions], like most Coast
Guard boats,” he said.
In Texas, Station South Padre Island is the state’s southernmost point and is on the U.S.-Mexico border. It, too,
has seen its success rate catching go-fast vessels increase
since switching from Defender-class boats to the SPC–LEs.
“They rarely get away, and when they do it’s only
because they crossed into Mexico,” said Boatswain’s
Mate 2nd Class Robert Capiro.
He said that in the early months of having the
SPC–LE, the people on go-fast vessels were surprised
the service was able to catch them.
“Now it has gotten out that we have a boat that can
hang in there,” Capiro said.
The station also uses the SPC–LE for other purposes, such as fishery enforcement, counter-drug missions,
and search and rescue. ■