Coast Guard fast response cutters make history

Coast Guard cutters Paul Clark and Charles Sexton together at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard cutters Paul Clark and Charles Sexton together at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard cutters Charles Sexton and Paul Clark are two of the service’s new fast response cutters. Capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots and armed with one stabilized remotely operated 25-mm chain gun and four crew-served .50-caliber machine guns, their crews deliver superior law enforcement capabilities. It was this capability that led to a historic drug interdiction.

The two cutters teamed up last month in the first drug interdictions performed aboard the 154-foot fast response cutters, seizing an estimated 2,100 pounds of marijuana and 35 kilograms of cocaine worth a combined wholesale value of more than $3 million.

On May 2, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew located a go-fast vessel in the vicinity of the Bahamas. Ensign Breanna Hite was on the bridge at the time and recalls performing a boarding on another vessel when the crew got the call that a go-fast was spotted.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark offloads an estimated 2,100 pounds of marijuana and 35 kilograms of cocaine worth a combined wholesale value of more than $3 million. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark offloads an estimated 2,100 pounds of marijuana and 35 kilograms of cocaine worth a combined wholesale value of more than $3 million. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque.

“We wrapped up the boarding quickly and launched our smallboat, shifting gears very quickly,” said Hite.

It was a shift the crew is used to. Petty Officer 3rd Class Darian Suprun has been aboard since the ship’s commissioning in May 2013 and is accustomed to day-to-day life aboard the fast response cutter; a life that keeps her busier than other units she has been aboard.

“Aboard here we get cases at all hours of the day so you hit the rack whenever,” said Suprun. “There is no set schedule. We get a couple boardings every now and then but then when something hits the radar, that is when things really start to happen.”

The crew of the Paul Clark launched its smallboat crew, which was vectored to the suspect vessel’s location by an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew. The suspects fled and abandoned their vessel off the coast of Haiti. The Paul Clark crew arrived on scene and recovered approximately 220 pounds of marijuana from the vessel with a wholesale value of approximately $199,600.

Paul Clark continued the fast-paced operations as six to eight hours later the Charles Sexton reported a go-fast with five people aboard. The two crews, coordinating with their extensive communication equipment, worked together to execute the interdiction.

“The sheer amount of systems – via voice or ship-ship communication – and capabilities that we have really helped to execute the interdiction,” said Lt. Kevin Connell, commanding officer of the Charles Sexton. “To me it really boils down to the information technology at our fingerprints. The tools are right next to the person actually driving the cutter. They can relay how they want to tactically deploy the cutter as well as communicate that to other folks simultaneously.”

“Two fast response cutters working together are a very capable package and the interoperability of the two ships allows us to be twice as effective,” said Lt. Lloyd Belcher, commanding officer of Paul Clark.

Ultimately, Charles Sexton’s crew spotted the suspect vessel and launched their smallboat. Upon seeing the Coast Guard boat, the suspects aboard the vessel jettisoned bales of contraband into the water and attempted to flee. The Charles Sexton’s smallboat crew successfully stopped the fleeing suspects and took all five into custody. The Charles Sexton’s crew recovered approximately 1,895 pounds of marijuana and 35 kilograms of cocaine with a combined wholesale value of approximately $2.8 million from the water.

Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of law enforcement for the 7th Coast Guard District, presents a marijuana bust sticker to the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque.

Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of law enforcement for the 7th Coast Guard District, presents a marijuana bust sticker to the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque.

The disruption and interdiction by the Paul Clark and Charles Sexton was historic and resulted in the first drug bust decals awarded to a crew of a fast response cutter.

“The crew is really proud to be able to have that first drug bust sticker in the fleet,” said Belcher. “But its even more rewarding that not six hours later we shared it with a sister ship. This is the final ‘big mission’ piece to be complete. If you think of all the other things fast response cutters have done … this is the last Coast Guard mission set that had yet to be tested and we’re just really proud to be part of that legacy.”

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