Chertoff, Taylor to speak at christening of 418-foot Coast Guard cutter

Published 9:16 pm Friday, November 10, 2006

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor will join Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for the christening of the Coast Guard’s first national security cutter during a Veterans Day ceremony at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula.

The 418-foot Bertholf is the first of eight deepwater cutters the Coast Guard has ordered in the largest recapitalization effort in the service’s history, said Northrop Grumman spokesman Bill Glenn.

The cutters are designed to accommodate the Coast Guard’s new multifaceted missions of providing homeland security, national defense and marine and environmental protection, Glenn said.

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“All those traditional missions continue,” said Taylor, D-Miss. “And on top of that, they are the first line of defense in keeping weapons of mass destruction from getting to our shores.”

Taylor, who lives in Bay. St. Louis, served in the Coast Guard Reserve from 1971-84. More than 300 Coast Guard veterans were invited to Saturday’s christening.

“It certainly adds a heck of a lot to the occasion to have the veterans there,” Taylor said. “They more than anyone, particularly our World War II veterans and our Korean veterans, saw the horror of when our nation is not prepared to go to war.

“You can never make war safe, but you can make it less dangerous by being prepared,” he said. “I think our veterans can appreciate that more than anyone.”

Northrop Grumman teamed with Lockheed Martin to develop the vessels in a multibillion dollar effort to replace the Coast Guard’s aging fleet.

Taylor said outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reduced the number of vessels in the Navy, threatening the viability of the nation’s shipbuilding industry. He said Rumsfeld, who announced his resignation Wednesday shortly after it became apparent that Democrats had taken control of Congress, cut the Navy fleet by about 50 ships.

“Given that scenario, with six shipyards vying for a limited number of ships to build, it’s great news for Northrop Grumman to get this Coast Guard contract,” Taylor said.

Northrop Grumman Ship Systems is Mississippi’s largest private employer with more than 10,000 workers at its Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula. The company also has facilities in Gulfport and New Orleans.

The Bertholf will be the Coast Guard’s first new high-endurance cutter in 35 years, Glenn said. The service’s last 378-foot high endurance cutter — the USCGC Midgett — was built at Northrop Grumman’s Louisiana shipyard in 1971, Glenn said.

Taylor said the current fleet is so old that it’s becoming cost prohibitive to keep the vessels seaworthy.

The Bertholf will be able to launch and recover two rigid inflatable rescue boats and has a flight deck capable of accommodating manned and unmanned helicopters.

The vessel is named Bertholf in honor of the Coast Guard’s first commandant, Ellsworth Price Bertholf. Bertholf helped implement the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and U.S. Life Saving Service in 1915 under President Woodrow Wilson. He chose Coast Guard as the name for the new agency.