Coast Guard leader calls for more ships

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ALAMEDA — The Coast Guard’s three newest cutters bobbed gently at dock while sailors and civilian workers scurried to erect a podium for Adm. Robert Papp, the service’s commandant.

Papp is scheduled to deliver the annual state of the Coast Guard address Thursday on Coast Guard Island in Alameda. The three ships — the Bertholf, Stratton and Waesche — will serve as Papp’s $2 billion backdrop.

It’s the first time a commandant has delivered the speech outside Washington, D.C., said his aide, Cmdr. Glynn Smith, and it was no coincidence the $700 million National Security Cutters were serving as a backdrop.

Papp wants many more new ships, and he wants them as soon as possible.

The Coast Guard’s patrol area stretches from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific. Papp believes the Arctic region is the most important emerging maritime frontier, vital to the U.S. economy and national security. Melting polar ice is opening year-round shipping lanes for the first time, and many nations are rushing to the region to exploit the new development, yet the Coast Guard has a single icebreaker operating in the region year-round.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Papp said that he has 40 “major” ships under his command and the vast majority of them were built during the Vietnam War.

“They’re falling apart,” said Papp, his forehead smeared with ash from his Ash Wednesday visit to nearby St. Joseph’s Church.

Papp has

made overhauling the aging fleet a priority since his appointment to oversee a service comprising 42,000 active duty military and 8,000 civilian workers. That’s a challenge, he said, given ever tighter annual budgets to meet always growing mandates since 9/11.

The service has myriad duties involving national security, the commandant said, including inspecting foreign cargo ships bound for the United States, and intercepting drug runners, gun smugglers and other dangerous vessels thought to be a threat to national security. The Coast Guard is also still responsible for rescuing boaters in distress, policing domestic waterways and enforcing regulations.

“Everybody wants us to do something,” Papp said.

Unlike the other military branches, which answer to the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard belongs to the Department of Homeland Security. Its 2012 budget is a little more than $10 billion, with about $1.2 billion for acquisitions of new vessels. Papp said the Coast Guard needs twice the annual acquisition budget — some $2 billion a year — to update the fleet.

The Coast Guard’s new duties since 9/11 include patrolling what he terms the “middle layer” of the world’s oceans, where national security threats

need to be stopped hundreds and thousands of miles from the country’s shores, Papp said.

Protecting the country’s ports even begins at foreign ports that trade with the U.S., he said. The Coast Guard has 120 oversees inspectors who examine foreign ships destined for the United States in 1,000 ports and facilities in more than 150 countries.

Article source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/top-stories/ci_20024351

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