Damage control, not damage repair – keeping an aging cutter active

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the lunar surface of the moon; over 48 years later, the U.S. Coast Guard is still using the same technology to conduct modern day operations.

The Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Washington, is the eighth Coast Guard vessel to bear the name and was officially commissioned Sept. 1, 1966—almost three years before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.

Petty Officer 1st Class Victor Arcelay, a damage controlman and one of the 75 crew members aboard Active, has the daunting task of keeping the Active, well — active.

“Imagine you have a ship that is 52, 53-years-old, you have to deal with systems that are about the same age,” said Arcelay. “As everything advances, parts become obsolete and chasing down parts or trying to fix with what you have available is a challenge.”

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash., interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash., interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

The Active is currently operating well beyond its 30-year design service life. The Medium Endurance Cutter class is considered the backbone of the Coast Guard’s fleet; however, engineering challenges have plagued the operations of these vessels in recent years. There are many unique challenges to being the lead damage controlman aboard a cutter. It is damage control, not damage repair says Arcelay.

“Reporting here has kept me busy and I’m happy for it,” said Arcelay. “I usually tell my wife she’s my one and only, but the ship is my mistress, because I spend so many hours on this ship it would make any wife jealous.”

The crew returned June 1, 2018, from a 53-day counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean where they interdicted three “panga” style vessels and one pleasure craft, resulting in the seizure of more than three tons of illicit narcotics worth an estimated $95 million wholesale value, and the apprehension of 11 suspected drug smugglers.

Despite aging platforms, Medium Endurance Cutter crews continue to patrol the drug transit zone in the Pacific Ocean near Central and South America with success. In fact, these crews stopped nearly a third of all drugs seized by the U.S. Coast Guard in Fiscal Year 2017, more than 138,000 pounds. In Fiscal Year 2017, the Coast Guard removed more than 493,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $6.6 billion, which was a new record for the service, up from 443,000 pounds of cocaine in Fiscal Year 2016.

“I’m incredibly proud of this crew and their accomplishments,” said Cmdr. Chris German, commanding officer of the Active. “The success of this patrol is a testament to their hard work and dedication. Just to keep a 52-year-old ship in prime condition is a feat in and of itself, and they have done that and much more.”

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash., interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash.,  interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

Medium Endurance Cutters are scheduled for replacement by the Offshore Patrol Cutter, with construction of the first vessel slated to begin in 2018 and delivery of the first one scheduled for 2021. The OPC is one of the Coast Guard’s highest priority acquisitions, and as a replacement for the aging Medium Endurance Cutters, the OPC will be the foundation of the Coast Guard’s offshore fleet and bridge the gap between the capability of the National Security Cutter and the Fast Response Cutter.

Arcelay has 18 years of Coast Guard service under his belt, and he is at the end of his tour with the Active. He reports to Coast Guard Base Cape Cod in July.

“I’m pretty sure this is the unit that taught me the most,” said Arcelay. “It’s made me a better person, a better damage controlman, a better technician, and I’ve done so much to this ship to help keep her afloat that I’m sure this unit has been the most helpful in my career.”

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash.,  interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance Reliance-class cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Wash., interdicts more than 1 ton of cocaine from four suspected drug smugglers during a counter-narcotics patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Friday, May 18, 2018. Cutters like Active routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea to perform defense operations, alien migrant interdiction, domestic fisheries protection, search-and-rescue, counter-narcotics and other Coast Guard missions at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland. U.S. Coast Guard Photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse.

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