In 2005 Venezuela began a program to provide security for their Exclusive Economic Zone that they refer to as POVZEE (patrullero oceánico de vigilancia de la zona económica exclusiva). The program called for the construction of eight ships to perform what we recognize as Coast Guard functions. Four of the ships were intended to patrol the EEZ and four smaller ships were planned to patrol closer to shore.
Venezuela recently took possession of the first of four larger 99 meter Patrol ships (PC-21, 22, 23, 24) (Video here. It is almost 10 minutes, and the interview is in Spanish. It only provides a pier level, port quarter view and views of some sensors. A clearer port quarter view with the stern gate down is here along with a close up of the CIWS.) They have already received two of the four smaller 22 knot, 1,720 ton, 80 meter vessels (GC-21, 22, 23, 24) that lack hangers but are otherwise similar (pictures of these smaller ships are at the bottom of this page).
These larger ships look a lot like what we might expect the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) to look like.
- Length: 98.9 meters (324.5 ft)
- Displacement: 2,419 tons (full load)
- Beam: 13.6 m (44.6 ft)
- Draft: 3.8 m (12.5 ft)
- Depth to main deck is 7.2 m (24 ft)
- Accommodations for up to 92
- Maximum speed: 25 knots
- Endurance 3,500 nmi @ 18 knots (too low for our needs, but no one else builds conventionally powered ships with the endurance of Coast Guard cutters)
- Combined diesel and diesel (CODAD) propulsion system using four MTU diesel engines rated at 4,440kW each for a total of 17,760kW (23,807 HP), twin Wärtsilä Propulsion controllable-pitch propellers
- Two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB)
- Flight deck and hanger.
- Armament: OTO Melara 76mm, forward, Oerlikon 35 mm “Millennium Gun” aft, and 2x.50 cal.
Venezuela’s EEZ is only one 23rd that of the US. If the US had a program with a proportionate level of effort to protect its EEZ, the Coast Guard would have 184 large patrol cutters.
Considering their apparently close ties, it is somewhat surprising that the Venezuelans chose a Spanish shipyard and European weapons over the Russian alternatives. Spanish shipyards used to be very inefficient, frequently taking ten years to build a warship, but Navantia, where these ships are being built, appears to be quite competitive, building ships for Norway, Australia, and Thailand as well as the Spanish Navy. Perhaps the common language had an influence, or perhaps it is because the Venezuelans have seen Russian systems in action, that they decided to go European.
The choice of the 35 mm “Millennium Gun” is a bit surprising. The only other user is the Danish Navy. But looking a little closer, it is understandable and, if the USN also adopted it, it might be a good option for the Coast Guard as well. The mount weighs is only half that of the Phalanx. Whether it is as good an anti-missile weapon as the Phalanx is debatable, but it is almost certainly better as an anti-ship weapon (Lockheed Martin video of the gun here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ogwfPrV1fk).
There is a stern gate that looks like it may be for launching a boat but I’ve seen nothing that states it’s purpose.