The Coast Guard cutter and her 140 crew return to California after a nearly 80-day patrol in the Bering Sea

A US Coast Guard Cutter and its 140 crew returned to California late last month after a nearly 80-day patrol in the Bering Sea.

The 418ft Waesche – a vessel longer than a football field – has covered more than 12,000 miles since leaving Alameda in November. Her patrol covered the West Coast, the Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.

During her more than two months at sea, the National Security Cutter and her crew served as a “ready asset” for homeland defense and search and rescue operations, supporting the commercial fishing industry of nearly $6 billion, according to a Coast Guard release.

Lt Cmdr. Keith Blevins has been with the Waesches since May last year. He said the Coast Guard sends its most valuable assets to Alaska, given the state’s strategic location and booming fishing industry.

“Where is the Coast Guard’s got a 365 cutter [days a year] with a helicopter ready to intervene? There’s one place in the world where we’re always ready, and that’s Alaska,” Blevins said in a phone interview from his home in Alameda.

There is still a Coast Guard vessel in Bering Sea waters, Blevins said. When one leaves, another heads north to Alaska.

During the Waesche’s last patrol, she enforced fishing regulations among the Bering Sea fleets and guarded the US-Russian sea border.

He also conducted “rigorous training exercises”, according to the Coast Guard statement.

These training exercises included practicing rescuing sailors in distress by using a helicopter to hoist a dummy from the deck of the cutter, as if rescuing a fisherman from a vessel at sea, Blevins said. The Waesche also assisted with two medical evacuations of Aleutians while on patrol.

The crew also focused on boat operations and training boat crews in Alaska’s rough weather and sea conditions, Blevins said.

“You can launch a boat on a nice sunny day in San Francisco or Alameda, and that’s nothing compared to Alaska,” he said. “So you’re not just launching the boat on a clear, sunny day to practice. You are launching on a day when the winds can be up to 30 knots and it can be dark so that way if we were to launch and go and help the fishermen the first time you launch the boat in bad weather is not the time you have a search or rescue case.

The Russian Navy has boosted its presence in the Arctic in recent years as sea ice melts and economic opportunities open up with new shipping lanes, drawing increased attention from US military observers.

The Waesche is the second of eight planned national security cutters, according to the Coast Guard. The large, technologically advanced fleet is capable of performing “the most challenging operations, including supporting homeland security and defense maritime missions,” the agency said.

“We are preventing adversaries entering our waters,” Blevins said. “The Waesche and/or other vessels will go up and patrol the maritime border between us and Russia. Last summer we had the Chinese strike group enters Aleutian Range and they were met by Coast Guard National Security cutters. We are always there for those crises as well.

On average, cutters spend about 185 days away from their home base, according to Blevins. He said the Waesche should stay in Alameda for a while for maintenance before returning on patrol.

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