Coast Guard Cutter Celebrates 50 Years of Service

Cmdr. Alain Balmaceda, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, signs the cutter’s rudder “El Tiburon Blanco” after a successful dry dock in Bellingham, Wash., Nov. 17, 2018. Steadfast reportedly earned the nickname “El Tiburon Blanco” to Colombian drug traffickers, translating to “The White Shark” for being a nemesis to their smuggling operations. (USCG)

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Steadfast is celebrating the ship’s 50 years of maritime service. Since the cutter’s commissioning in 1968, its crew has performed nearly all of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions. The cutter is best known, however, for its role enforcing maritime law through the execution of hundreds of successful drug and migrant interdictions over the years.

Renowned for its record-setting drug seizures, Steadfast was the first “millionaire” cutter, after intercepting 1,025,375 pounds of drug shipments as of Oct. 22, 1980.  At the time, it was 12 % of all marijuana seized by the entire U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) since 1973. Steadfast is one of only two cutters to achieve this milestone, which is denoted by the golden emblem on its mast.

During the 1970’s, the cutter seized more than 110 tons of narcotics bound for American shores throughout the Caribbean, reportedly earning the nickname “El Tiburon Blanco” to Colombian drug traffickers, which translates to “The White Shark”.

The Steadfast was the ninth of twelve medium endurance, 210-ft. cutters constructed. This Relianceclass of cutters was the first major addition to the USCG fleet following World War II. The class replaced the aging 125-ft. and 165-ft. prohibition-era cutters.  Steadfast was built by the American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio for $3.1 million and was homeported in St. Petersburg, Florida, for its first 24 years of service.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast stands on the floor of the dry dock in Bellingham, Wash., Nov. 17, 2018. (USCG)

In 1992, the cutter was decommissioned for major maintenance availability to extend its service another 25 years. Upon return to active service, the cutter Steadfast was re-commissioned and moved to Astoria in February 1994.

The crew recently returned home Nov. 21, 2018 following a 76-day dry-dock availability in Bellingham, Washington.  Despite its age, Steadfast continues to serve the U.S., enforcing fisheries laws and regulations, interdicting transnational smuggling operations at the southern border, and conducting joint counter-narcotic operations deep in the Eastern Pacific.

Medium endurance cutters are scheduled to be replaced by the offshore patrol cutter (OPC), with construction of the first vessel to begin in 2018 and completed in 2021. The OPC is one of the highest priority acquisitions for the USCG. As a replacement for the aging medium endurance cutters, the OPC will be the foundation of the USCG offshore fleet and bridge the gap between the capability of the national security cutter and the fast response cutter. —U.S. Coast Guard

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast transits under the Astoria-Megler Bridge, located in Astoria, Ore., while displaying “Never Sail Too Far” with their signal flags, Nov. 21, 2018. (USCG)

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