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Coast Guard cutter moving from New London to ice-breaking duty on the Great Lakes

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published January 14. 2013 4:00AM
Robert F. Bukaty/AP photo
The Coast Guard cutter Morro Bay breaks ice on the Kennebec River in a passage known as the Chops in March 2009 in Woolwich, Maine. The Morro Bay is being transferred from New London to Cleveland later this year so it can work clearing ice on the Great Lakes.

New London - A Coast Guard cutter is leaving the city for a new home in Cleveland.

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. said the Morro Bay will transfer this summer so it can break ice on the Great Lakes. There are no plans to assign another ship to New London to take the Morro Bay's place anytime in the near future, Papp, the Coast Guard commandant, added.

The Morro Bay, a 140-foot icebreaker, was commissioned in 1981 and operated on the Chesapeake Bay. It was decommissioned in 1998.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Papp said, the Coast Guard wanted more resources on the East Coast for security operations. The cutter, which was at a Baltimore shipyard for retired ships, rejoined the fleet and moved to New London.

"Morro Bay was never brought back because we needed an icebreaker in New London," said Papp, who was at the Coast Guard Academy Wednesday to give his annual leadership address.

But when Papp was leading the Ninth Coast Guard District, which is responsible for the service's missions on the Great Lakes, from 2004 to 2006, he said he did realize the Coast Guard needed more icebreakers there. He asked whether one of the East Coast icebreakers could relocate.

Papp endorsed the proposal when he commanded the Coast Guard Atlantic Area and has now approved it as the head of the Coast Guard.

The Morro Bay will be more useful in Cleveland, Papp said, because the Coast Guard needs to break ice on the Great Lakes every year and the cutter can also take the place of other icebreakers when they are sent to the shipyard for renovations.

The Coast Guard conducts ice breaking to aid in search and rescue and other emergency operations, mitigate flooding and to meet the demands of commerce. Large quantities of steel, coal, heating oil and grain ships travel throughout the Great Lakes region.

The Morro Bay is normally responsible for the waters near Nantucket as well as the Cape Cod Canal and Cape Cod Bay.

The crew is typically made up of three officers and 14 enlisted personnel. They have traveled from New London to break ice in the Great Lakes and cleared paths for ships in New York's Hudson River and Maine's Penobscot Bay, when there wasn't ice near Nantucket and Cape Cod.

Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy's superintendent, previously commanded the Cutter Katmai Bay on the Great Lakes. She said she knows the Morro Bay captain and crew will enjoy taking their boat to where they can break ice.

"I think it's a smart decision and they'll be breaking ice up there in the Great Lakes where they're needed," she said. "But of course we'll miss them."

The Cutter Chinook, an 87-foot patrol boat, will remain in New London, Papp said. Papp said he is not sending another ship to the city right now because the Coast Guard does not have a lot of pier space here.

"While I think New London is a great homeport, we just haven't been able to come up with shore infrastructure money to be able to replace the pier," he said.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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