Sitka to lose USCG Cutter Maple this summer

(Photo: USCG)

Sitka’s docks will look a bit different this summer. The US Coast Guard Cutter Maple will sail south for maintenance and then be reassigned a new homeport in the spring, leaving Sitka without a large Coast Guard vessel for at least six months.

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Lt. Commander Patrick Armstrong is the officer in charge of the Coast Guard Cutter Maple.

“There’s been so many hours put on the engines and the generators and things just need to be rebuilt,” Armstrong explained. “Wiring and a lot of the engineering type stuff needs to be overhauled. So there’s nothing specifically wrong with the ship, it’s just a general mid-life maintenance.”

The Maple was commissioned in the mid-1990s. Armstrong said it’s among more than a dozen other cutters now in need of a tuneup.

Crewmembers aboard the USCG cutter Kukui. (Photo: USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie via flickr.)

Once work on the Maple is done, the 225-foot vessel will have a new homeport in Atlantic Beach, NC. Although the cutter will have a new home, Armstrong said it’s crew won’t go with it.

“Here in Sitka, nothing will change in terms of the personnel or the transfers, only the ship itself,” Armstrong said. “In the end it will be just a name change for the ship.”

That new name is the Kukui. The 225-foot cutter is currently homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii and has long ties to the state, getting its name from Hawaii’s state tree.

Like the Maple, it too was designed to service navigation buoys.

“It’s essentially the same thing, just a few minor engineering configurations on board, but it’s really the same class of ship,” Armstrong said.

Along with being in the same class, it was also commissioned around the same time, so the Kukui, too, will get midlife maintenance done in Baltimore before sailing on to Sitka.

But, Armstrong said, that won’t happen until 2018, meaning Sitka will be without a Coast Guard cutter for at least six months.

“Without having a ship we won’t be sailing and doing our normal ATON [aids to navigation] missions and search and rescue missions,” Armstrong said. “Instead, our crew will be focusing on training and maintaining proficiency by doing temporary service on other units and also assisting local units.”

Armstrong said search and rescue efforts will be well-covered in the area with the help of Air Station Sitka and Coast Guard Sector Juneau, but he does have some bad news for Halloween lovers in Sitka.

“This October, unfortunately because we don’t have a ship, we will have one year here without it, but we fully expect when we have Kukui back in 2018, we do plan to have a haunted ship again,” Armstrong reassured.

The Coast Guard Cutter Maple will leave Sitka this summer, probably in July, Armstrong said. He expects the Kukui to sail into Sitka’s harbor in the spring of 2018.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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