The Charleston-based Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin will be decommissioned Monday, ending a 45-year career in which its crews captured thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana in the Caribbean valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
But the ship's career is not over. The vessel is being transferred to the Nigerian Navy. A small portion of the crew from that African country is already on site getting trained.
And later this year, a replacement ship from what's been described as the next generation of Coast Guard national security cutters - the Hamilton - will arrive in Charleston.
It will be the first of its kind on the East Coast with three others already pulling duty on the West Coast.
In the meantime, the Coast Guard doesn't see a shortage of patrol vessels for East Coast and Caribbean duty. There are about a dozen medium endurance cutters stationed between Florida and Virginia, said a Coast Guard public affairs spokeswoman.
Gallatin executive officer Commander Stephen Matadobra said there is a sense of ending for some of the crew.
"It's excitement, but you also have some folks that have been in the Coast Guard a long time," he said. "It's sad to see a cutter decommissioned."
About 30 of the crew will be staying in Charleston and assigned to the Hamilton. Others are being transferred and reassigned.
As a more modern ship, the Hamilton needs only about 120 crew, as opposed to the more than 170 needed for the Gallatin. Updated machinery, navigation and electronics that need less human observation is a reason.
During his career, Matadobra has heard of a number of tricks to move drugs, including fast, low-riding boats and even submersibles. He knew of one stop made about 15 years ago where someone used a pickup truck off Florida that had been converted to a smuggling boat.
Drug stops weren't Gallatin's only missions. The ship's participation record includes being a platform for "migrant interdiction," including Operation Able Vigil in 1994 where the Gallatin coordinated and participated in the rescue of more than 27,000 Cuban migrants.
Other efforts include the search for the lost captain of the tall ship HMS Bounty replica off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and in the natural disaster response to the St. Vincent volcano event in 1979.
Monday's ceremony is set for 10 a.m., at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Pier Papa, in North Charleston. The event is closed to the public.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551
This 40-foot sailboat had 173 Haitians on board when the Charleston-based cutter Gallatin intercepted it during a deployment off of Haiti. All were safely returned to Port Au Prince.×
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