“We actually have a means of communicating with
ships making the trans-Atlantic crossing, and we put out
a call, ‘Hey, any vessels within a certain radius of this
spot, can you help?’ A Spanish fishing vessel, a big processing vessel, came and picked them up for us,” he said.
The fishing vessel eventually transferred the sailors
to a Spanish-flagged hospital ship from which they
were taken back to France.
“That’s typically how we work. We’ll work with the
merchant-commercial mariner,” Popiel said. “They
understand they may be the one who needs help some
day and they’re usually pretty good about helping us
out. We had about a dozen cases last calendar year that
happened in that 1,000-mile to 1,300-mile range.
Those definitely are challenging. They challenge the
extremes of our capability.”
‘A Good Balance’
Adding to this challenge, not only for search and rescue but for many of the First District’s missions, is an
aging fleet and tight budgets, which make new
resources and assets harder to come by, issues that are
common throughout the Coast Guard. While some
new assets, such as the Ocean Sentry aircraft and
Rescue 21 command, control and communications
technology, have been added in recent years, the average age of the district’s seagoing and coastal buoy tenders and patrol boats is about 20 years, its Medium-Endurance Cutters are about 30 years old — the
Kittery, Maine-based 210-foot cutter Reliance just
turned 50 — its icebreaking tugs are in their mid-30s
and the small harbor tugs are in their 50s.
Though the new NSC, Joshua
James, will be commissioned in
Boston, it will be homeported in
Charleston, S.C., with the Seventh
Coast Guard District. The new
Sentinel-class Fast-Response Cutters also are being delivered
to the Seventh District, in Florida
and Puerto Rico, to meet the
needs of the drug- and migrant-interdiction operations that are
more prevalent in that region than
in the Northeast.
A new Offshore Patrol Cutter
(OPC) is being planned, with a
design and contractor for up to the
first nine ships to be chosen by the
end of fiscal 2016, according to the
Coast Guard. The OPC is set to
replace the Medium-Endurance
Cutter fleet, which could mean
new ships for the First District,
“The budget is always tough,” Gifford said. “It’s
always nice to see the latest and greatest and wish you
had more of them, but we have to work with what we
have. We have to make sure it’s up and running and
meeting the needs of our missions.”
The service has learned by necessity to be resource-
ful when it comes to keeping its equipment operating
and planning for contingencies should situations arise
like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, where First District crews
helped open waterways and provided disaster assis-
tance along the Eastern Seaboard — in some cases
while also repairing damage to their own facilities.
Early this year, extreme winter conditions threatened fuel deliveries, port operations and maritime
transportation across the Northeast, posing a significant challenge for the district’s icebreaking operations
[see story on page 22].
“Thankfully, we were able to keep everything moving, but there were some dicey times,” Gifford said.
“One thing that the Coast Guard has really done well
is we have a logistics organization now — the DCMS
[Deputy Commandant for Mission Support]. They
have done an outstanding job of better marshalling.
“They put everything under logistics in one house
and it really has proven itself over the last few times
that we’ve had a significant season,” he said. “The
logistics world used to be a little more fractured, so
you have different commands trying to all accomplish
the same mission. Now, it’s all united under a single
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 14 SEAPOWER / JULY/AUGUST 2015
Rescue crews from the First Coast Guard District were joined by district
Commander RDML Linda L. Fagan, front, for cold water survival practice in
immersion suits in Boston Harbor May 21.