There are a lot of other considerations, but looking only at the waters under US jurisdiction, how does our large cutter fleet stack up? (All miles referred to here are nautical miles)
The US has the world’s largest EEZ, 11,351,000 km sq (3,393,921 mi sq). In addition there are 2,193,526 km sq (638,713 mi sq) of continental shelf under US jurisdiction. This is in addition to waters inside the territorial sea. The EEZ alone is larger than the total land area of the US.
Doing a little back of the envelope calculation, how well can our ships cover this area? The Coast Guard currently has 40 large patrol cutters and plans a fleet of 33. Typically, considering inport, maintenance and training, you need three ships to keep one on task. Best case, no more than half the fleet can be kept on patrol. So we can plan on having no more than about 16 ships on patrol and for the future, 11 would be more realistic.
If we consider the area of responsibility as roughly 4,000,000 mi sq, that is about 250,000 to 363,363 mi sq per ship. Thinking of the ships as response units, responding to SAR or sightings by maritime patrol aircraft, how far apart are the ships? The areas of responsibility are not square, generally they are 200 miles wide, so dividing by 200, ships are, on average 1,250 to 1,818 miles apart.
Next I looked at where our areas of responsibility are relative to the ships. Using seaaroundus.org, this is how it breaks out:
- Location Area in km sq.
- Alaska: 3,770,021
- Hawaii: 2,474,884
- East Coast: 915,763
- West Coast: 825,549
- Gulf of Mexico: 707,832
- Caribbean Islands: 211,429
- Other Pacific Islands: 3,328,925
Or by percent per fishery council:
- New England Council 2%
- Mid-Atlantic Council 2%
- South Atlantic Council 4%
- Caribbean Council 2%
- Gulf of Mexico Council 6%
- Pacific Council 7%
- North Pacific Council 29%
- Western Pacific Council 48%
- Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico: 16%
- Pacific: 84%
If we look at where the ships are, there are 26 (65%) homeported in the Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico and only 14 (35%) in the Pacific.
If we do the same sort of exercise as above to determine average distance between cutters, we get:
- Atlantic: 246 to 356 average miles between ships
- Pacific: 2,400 to 3,360 miles
The Pacific areas of responsibility are getting roughly one tenth the coverage of those in the Atlantic.
It appears the areas around the islands South and West of Hawaii are particularly under served, particularly considering the scarcity of other Coast Guard assets such as WPBs, SAR stations, and aircraft in these areas.
It might be assumed there is relatively little activity out there, but while I haven’t been able to get current figures, in terms of value of fish landed, in the late 1990s, Pago Pago, American Samoa was the number one fishery port in the US, ahead of Dutch Harbor and New Bedford, and Agana, Guam was number four. (www.wpcouncil.org/documents/value.pdf)
A little time spent at this site suggest most of these areas’ fisheries need more protection.
There are a lot of considerations in determining a proper fleet mix. Congress has been waiting for the Coast Guard’s plan. I hope we see it soon. I’ve heard the Offshore Patrol Cutters are in danger because we haven’t shown a return on the investment. Basically, if there are no large patrol cutters, we are abandoning our stewardship of the EEZ. How much is that worth? Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, has indicated that our fisheries alone support more than 1.9 million jobs and generate $163 billion in sales impacts.
We certainly need more than 35 large cutters. To get the average distance between cutters down to an average of 1,000 miles, we would need close to 60.
But even if the size of the fleet doesn’t increase, we need to consider putting more in the Pacific, particularly the 14th District that includes almost half the US EEZ. To meet a standard of an average of no more than 1,000 miles average between ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico would require only ten ships. We have six WMECs (five 210s and a 270) homeported in Florida, presumably primarily for drug and migrant interdiction. As the Webber Class come on line, they may be able to take over some of this task. Yes, there are lots of other things to consider, but this needs to be part of the decision. perhaps 210s could be moved to Guam, Pago Pago, and Honolulu and some 270s into the Pacific.