The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf was honored with the Coast Guard Foundation’s National Award for Heroism, in recognition of their interception of 19 drug smuggling vessels and cocaine worth $806 million.

Those 50,700 lbs. of drugs represented more than 10% of the Coast Guard’s cocaine seizures in 2015. In two Eastern Pacific deployments from May 2015 to April 2016, the crew of the 418’x54’x22’6”  Legend-class National Security Cutter were at sea for 213 days along with a tactical helicopter squadron and cryptological group.

“This was a collaborative effort of all the teams embarked working together as one powerful force – we were astonishing,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Walker Stippel, who accepted the award on behalf of his shipmates at the foundation’s annual Salute to the U.S. Coast Guard event Oct. 6 in New York City.

“We were an extraordinary team, from captain to seaman apprentice, we could not have achieved the level of success without the immense amount of hard work required by each and every individual onboard,” Stippel told the audience.

Commanded by Capt. Laura Collins, the Bertholf patrols were notable for intercepting two self-propelled semisubmersible smuggling boats, including the first nighttime capture. Typically about 40’ in length, powered by a single diesel engine with a snorkel, and steered by a helmsman in a small conning tower, the craft carry several tons of cocaine.

Interceptions are complex operations, executed over hundreds of squares miles and involving airborne surveillance, and helicopters and Over the Horizon small boats launched by cutters.


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.