Another Tug Rams Another Cutter in the Panama Canal

USCGC Thetis damage sustained in a collision in the Panama Canal 2 June 2016

USCGC Thetis was damaged when struck in the stern by a barge pushed by a tug in the Panama Canal on 2 June, 2016. Now there was a similar accident 18 April 2017. USCGC Tampa was struck in stern by a tug owned by the Panama Canal Authority. My first thought was that perhaps tug operators were being paid by the Drug cartels to disable cutters headed for the transit zone, but in fact Tampa had already finished her deployment to the Eastern Pacific.

Tampa was north bound in Miraflores Lake when the tug Cerro Santiago, south bound, having passed Tampa starboard to starboard, made an abrupt 180 and hit Tampa on the stern 29 minutes after midnight.

The tug master claimed he had fallen asleep. The NTSB  investigation found his claim of fatigue credible, working overtime, at the end of a seventh 8 hour workday, in a stressful environment.

Damage was relatively minor in both accidents, $170,018 in the case of Tampa‘s collision, but still there are lessons to be learned.

“Coast Guard Actions Postaccident:

“The Tampa added a written instruction on the vessel’s port entry checklist that requires the watchstander to verify that the AIS is operating in non-encrypted mode. (AIS was still encrypted when the collision occurred.–Chuck) In addition, for future transits of the canal, the Tampa’s aft lookout will be equipped with an air horn and handheld flares, which may be used when necessary to secure the attention of any vessel not operating in accordance with the rules of navigation. The position of shipping officer also was added back to the bridge watch composition. That position, which is charged with managing input from the CIC and the dedicated lookout, was staffed during the southbound transit; however, considering the staffing in the CIC, it was deemed a redundant capability and therefore removed for the northbound transit. As an organization-wide effort, the lessons learned from this accident have been added to the Coast Guard’s briefing program and will be discussed prior to future transits of the canal during briefings conducted on Coast Guard vessels.”

Thanks to Bryant’s Maritime Consulting for bringing this to my attention. 

Effective Border Security: Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico–Discussion

Passing along an announcement of an event coming up Tuesday, 29 August. Below is the announcement edited slightly. 

Livestream will be available here on 29 August at 1900.

As part of

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy 2017- 2018 Leadership Lecture Series

The U.S. Naval Institute presents

Effective Border Security:
Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico


ADM Kurt W. Tidd, USN
Commander, U.S. Southern Command


The Hon. Earl Anthony Wayne, Career Ambassador (Ret.)
former Ambassador of the United States to Mexico (2011-2015) and
Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

in a conversation moderated by ADM Thad W. Allen, USCG (Ret.)
former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard (2006-2010) 

29 August 2017, 1900-2000 Eastern

U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Leamy Hall

Space is limited, please contact if you have questions or are interested in attending in person.

This event is made possible with support from The William M. Wood Foundation.

U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.



Littoral Challenges Addressed at OPTECH South 2017–DefenseMediaNetwork

littoral optech south

DefenseMediaNetwork reports on a conference organized by the Naval War College conducted in Colombia,

“With the theme of “transnational threats and cooperation in the littorals,” the objective of OPTECH South has been to develop cooperative and technologically advanced ways impede kidnappings, drug running, and prevent other transnational threats and crimes in the Western Hemisphere that are affordable and sustainable.”

Sounds like something the Coast Guard would be interested in.

There were representatives from SOUTHCOM, OPNAV, ONR, NPS, CJCS, Canada, Brazil, Australia, UK, and Mexico. Noted that I saw no mention of the USCG and inquired if there was USCG representation. Had an e-mail discussion with one of the organizers of the conference, Stephan Benson, and he confirmed that there was no US Coast Guard representation at the conference.

I know we are short of money but found this curious.

They are now looking for USCG representation at OPTECH North.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.