Friday, August 24, 2012

United States Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie

Recently I was watching boat traffic at the West Pier in Sault Ste. Marie.  A small United States Coast Guard vessel headed out of the Soo Locks and returned sometime later.  This small vessel did have a gun on deck and I wondered about their responsibilities on our waterways.

We see the US Coast Guard on the water but I was surprised to learn that their work includes more than search and rescue.  They are also involved in pollution response such as oil spills, vessel inpsections, and drug, smuggling and illegal alien enforcement.

The United States Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie provided two opportunities for citizens to view some of their facilities and hear about their operations this summer.

The first opportunity was an open house on August 4, 2012 at the USCG base on Water Street in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  This was part of the Sault Ships and Sailabration festivities held to showcase our area’s history and connection to the beautiful water that surrounds us here in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

The second event was an informational meeting held Thursday, August 23, 2012 at the Soo Locks Visitors Center.  Four members of the local US Coast Guard facility presented their specific duties in keeping our waterways safe and clean.

United States Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie

Search & Rescue Vessels

Special Purpose Air Boat

Our tour guide explaining the mission of the Buckthorn

Welcome Abroad the Buckthorn

Ready to spring into action when needed

Buckthorn-a 100 foot bouy tender
Although the US Coast Guard tour was low-key, what we saw was amazing. The USCG maintains a fleet of vessels for their work here including maintenance of navigational aids, search and rescue, and vessel inspection.  

At the informational meeting, Executive Petty Officer Joseph Kerr explained that the Sault station is small for the Great Lakes but their area of responsibility is 250 nautical miles-from Grand Marais to 30 miles into Lake Huron.  Their responsibilities include coastal security for the Soo Locks, search and rescue and enforcement of laws and treaties.

Maintaining aids to navigation requires a group of seven people who maintain the 228 navigational aids between Munising and Drummond Island and the Les Cheneaux area. The vessels used are a 26 foot boat, a 20 foot skiff and two 4 wheel drive trucks to reach the 50 shore aids that must be kept clear and visible to passing boats.

Aids to navigation are inspected on a schedule that varies from 6 months to 5 year check-in time. 
Vessel and facility inspections are another responsibility of the Sector Sault group.  Commercial vessels such as ferries, tour boats, charter fishing boats, sailing excursions, parasailing and dive boats are given annual inspections as well as a five year recertification inspections.  

This group also handles responding to damaged and grounded vessels.  They were the first on scene when the Paul R. Tregurtha grounded recently in the St. Marys River. When the Paul R. Tregurtha grounded, a USCG unit was immediately dispatched to the scene.  The officers boarded the vessel.  They administered drug and alcohol tests to those in command of the Tregurtha.  Then a visual inspection was conducted in the boat.  A diver conducted an outside inspection.  It was eventually decided that it was safe for the Tregurtha to precede on for repairs once she was set free from the St. Marys River mud.

Pollution control is another responsibility handled out of the Sault Sector station.  This includes investigating all types of spills into our precious water.  There is oil spill containment equipment at many places around the Great Lakes including Sault Ste. Marie.  These personnel were also first on the scene to the grounded Paul R. Tregurtha to ensure that no oil leaks were occuring.

There have been 34 Search and rescue missions this year as well as 198 vessel boarding and 58 security boardings.  The Sector Sault group has winter responsibilities focused mainly on Raber Bay, Munuscong Bay and Ashmun Bay near the Soo.

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