The U.S. Coast Guard suspended normal operations of eight converted 123-foot patrol boats assigned to Coast Guard Sector Key West, Fla., due to additional structural damage recently discovered in the hulls.
“I suspended the operation of all eight 123-foot cutters to ensure the continued safety of our crews as we assess additional structural damage recently discovered aboard this class of cutter,” said Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard. “The reliable, safe operation of our cutters and aircraft is paramount to our effective mission execution, including vital search and rescue and migrant interdiction missions in the area. We are making necessary adjustments to deploy aircraft and ships from other areas to maintain our robust coverage in the area while we develop a long-term solution.”
The Coast Guard suspended operations today following a comprehensive analysis of the 123-foot patrol boat’s structure, including metallurgical examination, full-scale testing using an instrumented cutter, laboratory analysis, computer-based structural analysis, and a third party review from the designers of the original hull form.
Following the discovery of significant buckling in the structural members underneath a main engine aboard one of the eight cutters, Rear Adm. Dale Gabel, the Coast Guard’s chief engineer, personally inspected five more of the 123-foot patrol boats in Key West November 16. He found similar deformations, as well as other signs of hull weaknesses, aboard all five cutters.
The Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System had originally planned to convert 49 of the service’s 110-foot cutters into 123-foot cutters, intending to increase the vessel’s annual operational hours to 2,500 versus the 110-foot boat standard, which ranges from 1,800 to 2,200 hours. In June 2005, the Coast Guard stopped its conversion process at eight hulls when it determined the converted cutters lacked adequate capabilities to meet their expanded post 9/11 operational requirements.
Following conversion, the 123-foot boats displayed deck cracking and hull deformation and developed shaft alignment problems related to other structural issues.
The Coast Guard maintains a fleet of approximately 250 cutters and nearly 200 aircraft around the country. A total of 52 cutters and 39 aircraft are assigned to the Coast Guard’s Seventh District.
The Coast Guard is exploring options to address operational gaps due to this decision, including temporarily assigning assets from other operational areas to Sector Key West and employing the crews of the 123-foot cutters to augment other vessels.