Fire and Ice

As mentioned here, in an earlier post, the US Coast Guard has sent an non ice-reinforced patrol vessel into the Arctic. The 378 foot USCGC Hamilton, Hamilton Class ship commissioned in March 1967 – yes that is almost 42 years old – is based in San Diego and shines in the USCG as a serious drug interceptor. The article below discusses the beginnings of the “Hambones” voyage north of the Arctic circle, which includes a “small fire” in the engine room. I wonder what kind of risk assessment was done by the brass for this voyage.

You can read the commander’s journal entries of this voyage by clicking on the link. They are traveling north with a Canadian Commander on board.

Cutter Hamilton begins historic Arctic patrol
By Amy McCullough, Aug 31, 2008 Army Times Publishing Company

This isn’t a typical summer for the crew of the California-based cutter Hamilton, but these Coasties aren’t complaining as they sail into history.

After weeks of studying ice patterns and preparing for the arctic weather, the crew of the Hamilton is putting its training to use in its attempt to be the first non-ice-breaking vessel to conduct safety and security patrols in the Arctic.

Coast Guard Division 17 Commander Rear Adm. Arthur “Gene” Brooks said the Hamilton’s 4,000-nautical mile journey through the Arctic is the “final piece of the puzzle” the Coast Guard needs to put together for a comprehensive report outlining not only what its new responsibilities in that area include, but also what equipment will be necessary to complete the mission. Brooks said the report is due out “sometime this fall.”

The continued melting of the Arctic ice caps, an increase in oil exploration and additional shipping and cruise routes in the polar region are taxing the fleet, which now is responsible for patrolling areas that used to be ice, Commandant Adm. Thad Allen has said.

The 378-foot cutter left Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on Aug. 21. As it sailed through mostly fog and rain for Nome, where a helicopter brought Brooks and a commander from the Canadian navy aboard, its crew donned Mustang exposure suits to wash down the ship and brace themselves for the arctic weather.

“We are charting new territory for the Coast Guard’s homeland security mission, and we fully realize that as we cross into the Arctic Ocean,” Machinery Technician 1st Class Keith Madle wrote Aug. 25 in the Hamilton’s online crew journal.

With swells from 3 to 8 feet and temperatures hovering around 37 degrees, it was mostly smooth sailing early in the trip, according to the entries. But that changed Aug. 25 when Machinery Technician 3rd Class Judson Goodwin discovered flames shooting out of the exhaust of the No. 1 main diesel engine. The crew was able to put out the fire quickly, he wrote.

“The Main Propulsion personnel then commenced rebuilding the No. 1 MDE exhaust systems to get the Hamilton ready to dodge icebergs as we enter the Arctic Circle this evening,” Madle wrote Aug. 25.

Capt. Vincent Delaurentis, commanding officer of the Hamilton, said the fire was relatively minor and did not delay the trip.

“We do training to respond to those types of casualties, and the fire was put out in a matter of seconds due to that response,” Delaurentis said by telephone from aboard the Hamilton. “It was a small area, but anytime there is a fire in the engine room, we have a concern. It did not delay the operation and we are looking to get a part, although being up here, that takes a bit of effort.”

Delaurentis said the fire burnt off fuel that had collected in the exhaust.

But there are still many more challenges that await the aging cutter as it makes its 14-day journey through the Arctic, Brooks said. For one, the 41-year-old cutter will have to cover a vast distance in surroundings it was not built to encounter.

To ensure the cutter steers clear of looming icebergs, helicopters regularly fly ahead of the ship to scout for ice. When visibility conditions are poor, the cutter slows its pace and sends boats ahead, Brooks said.

“For the first time, we have now put eyes on our nemesis,” wrote Lt. B.J. Miles, senior aviator for Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, in his Aug. 27 journal entry, referring to the icebergs. “They look harmless enough just sitting there, but most of us know their history as a force to be reckoned with.”

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Sweet Jesus, That is as stupid as us sending our frigates North.

    The ice may be less, but there is still ice. I wonder if they even know what seabay recirc is. The hull on that boat is probably paper thin.
    I wonder who did the risk assessment? Bush maybe?

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