Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cleveland becomes home to second Coast Guard cutter/ice-breaker

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter/ice-breaker Morro Bay has more lives than a feral cat.

After settling in along the East Coast more than decade ago the 662-ton Morro Bay now has snagged a permanent berth in Cleveland, right alongside that of its twin-sister-size cutter/ice-breaker the Neah Bay.

First commissioned in 1981 the Morro Bay was attached at the hip with Baltimore, mostly seeing duty in the Chesapeake Bay.

It did not live a long and fruitful life, however, being decommissioned just 17 years later in 1998.

Then along came 9/11 and the world changed. Enough so, in fact, that the powers-that-be in Washington put the electric paddles on the Morro Bay and kicked-started the vessel back to life and good health.

Just as the Army and Marines wanted more boots on the ground, the Coast Guard wanted additional assests on the water as well.

This time the vessel was assigned further up the Eastern Seaboard in New England, specifically New London, Conn.

However, the Morro Bay never had much opportunity to take on a New England accent.

As fast as you could say “snow squall” the Morro Bay saw itself chugging up the St. Lawrence Seaway to assist in ice-breaking duties on the Great Lakes.

But even the U.S. Government has a heart.

Recognizing the human toll on the vessel's 17-person crew and their family members, all of whom initially thought they could depend on sleeping in the same bed every night rather than being a wandering nomad, the Coast Guard began hunting for a better idea.

That the rather substantial expense of sending a vessel all the way from New England to lakes Erie through Superior the Coast Guard was another mitigating factor in the agency's desire to find a happy home for the Morro Bay.

With these key points driving the Coast Guard, the agency came to the conclusion that for the crew and the bottom line it would be best to dock the Morro Bay in Cleveland.

Cleveland also happens to be the Coat Guard's command post for the agency's Ninth District, an area that encompasses the entire Great Lakes region.

So now the Morro Bay and the Neah Bay become the Coast Guard's two most easterly located ice-breakers for the Great Lakes.

There are no ice-breakers home-ported on Lake Ontario.

Yet even when Lake Erie is ice-free neither the crew of the Morro Bay nor the Neah Bay can sit back and drink pina colodas while waiting for lake-effect condition's to shut down commercial traffic requiring the services of an ice-breaker.

Both vessels have other missions and duties to attend to, the Coast Guard says.

Among them is search-and-rescue operations, response to water pollution, as well as other duties befitting a multitasking vessel and agency.

Oh, as a way on introduction the Morro Bay is named after a small town in southern California along the Pacific coast and which is the only all-weather small boat harbor between Santa Barbara, Calif. And Monterey, Calif.

As for the Neah Bay, it is located on the Makah Indian Reservation in Calallam County, Wash. and across from Canada's British Columbia in the Pacific Northwest.

The Coast Guard maintains a station in each location.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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