|Coast Guard Revival|
2: U.S. Coast Guard
By Brad Dunn — February 2001
Loy backed his speech with distressing stats. The number of available rescue boats had fallen 20 percent in four years. Aircraft deployments had more than doubled, but the number of pilots and crew had not gone up. More than 80 percent of small-boat station watchstanders were forced to work 24-hour duty shifts for three days straight.
He also recalled the tragedy of Morning Dew. In 1997 the 34-foot sailboat carrying a man and his two sons hit a jetty near Charleston, South Carolina. As she filled with water, one of the boys placed a MAYDAY call on channel 16. The local watchstander received the call but couldn't decipher the message. After trying to respond three times and not receiving a reply, he assumed there was no emergency. The boat sank, and no one survived. After analyzing the call, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the deaths not only on the owner of Morning Dew for inadequate preparation, but also on "substandard performance of U.S. Coast Guard Group Charleston in initiating a search-and-rescue response."
Loy used the incident to illustrate how cutbacks had starved the agency's ability to adequately train its staff. "Streamline too much, and the Coast Guard begins to consume itself, degrade its readiness, and endanger both its own people and the American people," he said. "The logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing."
Finally lawmakers listened, and promising legislation was soon launched in the House of Representatives. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1999 boosted the agency's total funding from $4.18 billion in 2000 to $4.75 billion in 2001. When the bill went to the Senate last summer, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was among its chief supporters.
"The Coast Guard deserves better, and [this bill] would restore the Coast Guard to normal operations levels and prevent reductions in the future," McCain said. "Simply put, it allows the Coast Guard to continue their critical work on behalf of our country."
This year, with a nearly $600 million raise, the Coast Guard can start alleviating neglected areas, one at a time. First the agency will bring its fleet into the 21st century. In May it will begin accepting proposals from private shipbuilders; by January 2002 it will start awarding contracts. The Coast Guard estimates that a one-for-one replacement of its offshore assets alone--about 90 ships and 200 aircraft--will cost anywhere from $7 billion to $15 billion and take about 20 years to complete.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.