NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — After 45 years of service, the Coast Guard cutter Gallatin finished its last patrol Wednesday, slipping up to a pier in North Charleston where its 170-member crew was greeted by family members and a dozen members of the Patriot Guard holding American flags.
The aging cutter, commissioned in 1968, will be decommissioned next year and transferred to the Nigerian Navy. Last year, the 45-year-old cutter Dallas, which also was based in South Carolina, was decommissioned and transferred to the Philippine Navy.
Next year, Coast Guard Sector Charleston will become the home port for the Hamilton, one of the new generation of Coast Guard national security cutters and the first of its class based on the East Coast. Three of the new cutters are already based in California.
During its last patrol, Gallatin crew members boarded three vessels, seizing 24,000 pounds of cocaine valued at almost $34 million in international waters in the Caribbean. Two of the boats that were boarded were fishing vessels; the third was a go-fast, a long narrow boat capable of high speeds.
Petty Officer Cliff Lewis, who participated in the seizures, said go-fasts try to elude detection, traveling without navigation lights at night. The fishing boats, he said, simply try to hide the contraband on board. During the patrol, the Gallatin's helicopter had to chase the go-fast and fire shots disabling the vessel's engine before it stopped, he said.
Ensign Andrew Wright and Seaman Julian Cubides also participated in the seizures.
Wright said that in recent years, most of what the Coast Guard seizes at sea is cocaine. "With marijuana being legal these days in some places in the states, it's just not as popular to traffic," he said.
Cubides was one of the nation's service personnel who received a thank-you call from President Obama on Thanksgiving.
"He gave me a big thumbs-up and said I was doing a good job and told me to relate to the crew they are doing a good job," Cubides said. "He talked to me a little bit about the Dolphins and the Heat. I'm a big Miami fan - that's where I grew up. But other than that he just said good job."
While the new national security cutters are bigger and faster than the Gallatin, they can be operated by a crew of about 110, said Capt. Douglas Fears, who will be the first commander of the Hamilton during the finish of its construction, its shakedown and commissioning.
The new cutters also have longer range and state-of-the art surveillance equipment.
"If you were to compare a 1968 Ford Mustang with a 2013 Mustang they are still a car with very similar features," he said. "But the degree of system integration, the efficiencies, the performance — all those things kind of translate to what you get with a new ship."