MIAMI – Capt. Christopher Scraba says he’s “very happy” with the first three Fast Response Cutters in the Coast Guard’s new class of patrol boats.
That might be an understatement given the fact that the Sentinel-class FRCs are replacing the aging and ailing 110’ Island-class cutters. The third and newest of the FRCs, the William Flores, recently arrived at 7th Coast Guard District headquarters here, where Scraba is the sector commander.
The 154’×25′ cutter is powered by twin MTU diesel engines producing a total of 5,800 hp and a range of 2,000 nautical miles for work that includes port, waterway and coastal security, drug and illegal migrant law enforcement, search and rescue and national defense. It has 24 crew.
Built by Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La., the cutter will be commissioned Nov. 3 in Tampa, Fla., a city key to the vessel’s name. Each FRC is named for an enlisted Coast Guard hero. William “Billy” Flores died at age 19 while helping save 27 of his shipmates after a collision between the 180’ Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn and the 605′ oil tanker Capricorn in 1980 near the entrance to Tampa Bay. He was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard medal for heroism.
“Having deployed on the first three FRCs, what comes out to me are the seakeeping capabilities,” said Scraba. The cutter can run through Sea State 4 and survive through Sea State 6, the Coast Guard says.
“The seakeeping capability of this platform with the stern launch enhances our capability to take care of our primary mission – search and rescue,” he said. That coupled with the four .50 caliber machine guns, the 28-knot speed and the 26’ small boat that makes 40 knots, gives the new FRCs more muscle against the bad guys.
The accommodations also are better, Scraba said. Instead of six- and eight-person berths far forward as in the 110s, the FRC has berths farther aft and centrally located for two to four people each.
Miami also has the Bollinger-built FRCs Bernard C. Webber and the Richard Etheridge. The first FRC cost $88 million, the others about half that.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said the Coast Guard’s “aggressive acquisition strategy” for the FRCs allowed construction to start “before operational, design, and technical risks were resolved.” Reworking resulted in delays and a cost increase of $6.9 million. The office questioned whether the cutter would perform as intended, but also noted that the Coast Guard mitigated risk by using a proven design and building to American Bureau of Shipping High Speed Naval Craft rules.
Scraba’s pleased with the performance, especially in the critical areas of speed and endurance. For example, the vessel hit 31.4 knots in the Gulf Stream and stayed out for seven days – two more than the five-day endurance she was designed for, said the commander, who describes the FRCs as “pouncers.”
Stern launch of the small boat is critical and so far, Scraba said, the ramp has operated very well. Small boats are launched more slowly by crane in older cutters.
Three more FRCs are due to be homeported in Miami with delivery scheduled about every 90 days. The 7th District expects to get 18 total. The Coast Guard wants to build up to 58 FRCs.
The Coast Guard initially tried unsuccessfully to enhance the fleet by stretching the 110s to 123’. Last year, the government sued Bollinger over the eight lengthened vessels, which it said were not seaworthy and were taken out of service. The work cost $78 million. The company said it had been “open and cooperative with the government” throughout the process and that it was “fully prepared to defend our good name aggressively” in court.
For more on the newest FRC, the William Flores, please see related video interview with Lt. Cmdr. Craig Allen.