Former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin handed to Nigerian navy in transfer ceremony

The former Coast Guard cutter Gallatin was transferred to the Nigerian navy Wednesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston.

After a 45-year career spent sailing under U.S. colors, the former Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin on Wednesday was officially transferred into the hands of the Nigerian navy.

The vessel is now known as the NNS Okpabana.

The cutter was decommissioned in March and a crew from the African country arrived in Charleston for training.

On Wednesday, a crowd of Nigerian navy officers, coast guardsmen and other visitors gathered on a pier at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston for a ceremony recognizing the transfer of ownership. Taps played hauntingly in the background as the U.S. flag was lowered and then replaced by that of Nigeria.

While addressing the gathered crowd, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Bruce Baffer spoke of the triumphs achieved by the crew members who have sailed aboard the Gallatin over the years. The vessel was built in a Louisiana shipyard and commissioned in 1969. It aided in the seizure of thousands of pounds of narcotics from international waters while assisting in search and rescue missions, disaster relief and Homeland Security patrols, Baffer said.

The NNS Okpabana will serve a similar purpose under the Nigerian navy, officials said.

"It's with a heavy heart that this proud ship will no longer sail among our fleet of high-endurance cutters. But that sadness is tempered with pride as she begins a new life under the capable watch of professional sailers and now our close friends," Baffer said. "(The vessel) will continue to execute humanitarian missions for Nigeria, an important ally, security partner and collaborator in the struggle against global terror. ... Our two countries are united in our common goals for peace, safety, security and freedom of the seas."

On behalf of his country, Nigerian Sen. Musiliu Obanikoro thanked the Coast Guard for their consistent support. The additional vessel will strengthen Nigeria's ability to combat terrorism and illegal activity, he said.

"I am glad to know that American support has greatly enhanced the capacity of the Nigerian navy," Obanikoro said.

The ceremony concluded as members of the Nigerian navy filed onto the vessel taking command of the ship.

The Gallatin was the second of its type to be donated to the Nigerian navy. The Coast Guard Cutter Chase was transferred in 2011 and renamed NNS Thunder, officials said.

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.

About 30 of the Gallatin's crew members 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. The newer ship boasts updated machinery, navigation and electronics that need less human observation, officials said.

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