Monday, April 28, 2014

MARAD offers transport ship for free - Why not ACUSHNET, GLACIER, STORIS?

Here’s one to make Coastie blood boil.

The U.S. Maritime Administration is currently offering for donation the transport USNS COMET (T-AKR-269) to interested parties. She is currently stored in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet where STORIS had been moored from 2007-2013.

COMET was launched in July 31, 1957 and delivered in late January 1958.

At that point, USCGC STORIS had already been in service for almost 15 years, had fought in a World War as a member of the Greenland Patrols and was a month into her historic Northwest Passage transit. USCGC ACUSHNET had served in World War II (as USS SHACKLE) at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and had participated in the daring Coast Guard rescue in early 1952 of the SS FORT MERCER. USCGC GLACIER (as a Navy vessel) had already completed two Operation Deep Freeze missions – the first of which was her maiden voyage as RADM Richard E. Byrd’s flagship – and was assigned to her third Deep Freeze deployment.

You can read about COMET’s history here:


COMET is the first of the RO/RO-type cargo transport vessels, or a “Roll-On, Roll-Off,” a designation that describes her configuration that allows the efficient loading, transport and unloading of wheeled vehicles and cargo.

The availability for COMET’s donation was announced in the Federal Register on April 7, 2014, which can be seen at

The ship was again listed in the Federal Register for the Section 106 public comment period on April 23, 2014

The availability has also been publicized through various blogs and other maritime-related sources.

Through the normal decommissioning and excessing process, the historic context and statement of significance and Historic American Engineering Record completed for COMET in 2010 determined that the ship was ELIGIBLE for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion “C,” which would recognize her design.

That’s it. With all due respect to the crews who manned her over the years, her accomplishments pale in comparison to the aforementioned Coast Guard cutters.

A similar historic review process in 2006 determined that ACUSHNET and STORIS were both ELIGIBLE for listing on the National Register. Both cutters were eligible under Criteria A and C, which would account for their individual historic accomplishments during World War II and in Coast Guard service (A) and their engineering/design (C). STORIS was a decorated veteran of the Greenland Patrols and the flagship of the successful 1957 Northwest Passage transit while ACUSHNET served at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  GLACIER’s Historic Context and Statement of Significance was completed in January 2011. GLACIER was eligible under Criterion A for her accomplishments in polar exploration and the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in Antarctica. GLACIER would ultimately serve on 29 Antarctic and 10 Arctic missions. She was also eligible for listing under Criterion B because of her close association with RADM Byrd and his historic accomplishments as a pioneer naval aviator, polar explorer and Medal of Honor recipient. GLACIER was also eligible under Criterion C for her design as the only icebreaker designed by and built for the U.S. Navy. GLACIER was also the largest and most powerful vessel of her type for more than 20 years.

STORIS (1991-2007) and ACUSHNET (2007-2011) both served as the prestigious “Queen of the Fleet” for the Coast Guard, as the oldest active cutters during those time periods.

While ACUSHNET and GLACIER were forsaken as far as National Register listing, STORIS was actually LISTED and DESIGNATED as NATIONALLY SIGNIFICANT on December 31, 2012.

COMET is 500 feet long, displaces some 16,000+ tons and is powered by 12,000 horsepower high-pressure steam turbines. IF someone were to take her, she would have to be a static museum. She would take up a lot of dock space.

Realistically, the attraction for such a ship compared to a decorated warship or an accomplished CG Cutter would be minimal. The three cutters were/are diesel-electric and would have been able to get underway for living history cruises and research/educational outings. This was a fundamental part of the museum plan for STORIS and GLACIER. There is not likely going to be interest in COMET as a living history ship, particularly in light of the fact that there are WWII-era Liberty ships that get underway where guests can actually buy tickets to go on living history cruises and experience these historic ships underway. These Liberties have low-pressure triple-expansion steam plants that are much safer to operate than a high pressure propulsion system. In other words, who is going to want this ship, especially with an early July deadline to put together an application for donation? What is MARAD doing to announce the availability so late and under these circumstances?

A huge question: WHY was this free donation offering not made available for STORIS or ACUSHNET? It’s clear now that both ships should not have been sold by the US Coast Guard through GSA as their displacements exceeded 1,500 tons (violating 40 U.S.C. 548). Instead, they should have been excessed through MARAD. There is also language within the Environmental Assessment for ACUSHNET and STORIS that direct donation of these ships was an option if selected by the Coast Guard. Yet all along, the STORIS Museum was led to believe that the only way a donation could be secured was through direct legislative action by Congress. When that route failed, STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol were forced to follow the GSA route with catastrophic results. The ship was sold to an extortionist “metal recycling” company who then illegally exported the ship to Mexico for scrapping (Section 3502 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act and likely the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976).

And again, it begs the question that rips open the wounds of why the Glacier Society ( was denied the opportunity by MARAD to preserve GLACIER?

There is an ugly and malicious double-standard being applied here, especially in light of the educational and cultural value that STORIS would have made as an active living history museum ship in Toledo. The same could be said for GLACIER in her proposed role with the Glacier Society in Miami. ACUSHNET never got the chance as the Federal Government on no account solicited interest in her for museum use. Instead, they couldn’t sell her fast enough after decommissioning to someone who has absolutely no business having her.

Is it because COMET is a MARAD favorite since it’s one of “their” ships? Or is this just a dog-and-pony show to say “well, we tried.” While MARAD is offering the ship for donation and soliciting comment for the Section 106 process, they are also simultaneously shopping the ship for disposal. The vessel has already been offered up for sampling by potential scrap buyers.

You can’t save every ship that has historic significance. But in the case of STORIS, GLACIER and ACUSHNET, they were special and very worthy candidates for historic preservation. STORIS and GLACIER had groups that were ready, willing and able to taken the ships and give them good homes that would have given so much to the communities where they were to be moored. STORIS had two groups and with both ships, the groups interested in saving them fought until the bitter end, but could not overcome the corrupt, bloated and apathetic bureaucracy that is our government.

The travesties committed by the bureaucrats who supposedly work for US speak volumes about the integrity of the Federal Government’s commitment to preserve and protect our maritime heritage, particularly that of the U.S. Coast Guard, with these remarkable and accomplished vessels that were eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Originally posted April 25, 2014)

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