NEW JERSEY - Just as military service members are celebrated and honored for their faithful service to the country when they retire so too are the assets they serve upon when they are decommissioned. After more than 22 years of service the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bainbridge Island, a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Bayonne, N.J., was honored in a farewell ceremony on March 17, 2014 to mark the conclusion of its military service at the cutter’s pier.
The Bainbridge Island started its service with a historic first; it was the first cutter with a minority woman to serve as its commanding officer. In 1991, the now Capt. Katherine Favery Tiongson took command of the cutter and with the crew began fulfilling the Coast Guard’s missions.
Although, primarily built as a law enforcement asset conducting patrols from Maine to Southern New Jersey, the Bainbridge Island has executed many missions beyond its designated area of responsibility over its years of service. In 1999, the cutter was part of the multiday, multiagency search for John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plan after it was reported missing when it did not reach its final destination. The cutter and crew supported Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 during a six month deployment as it provided security for ships crossing the Mediterranean Sea between the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. While escorting military vessels and convoys the cutter intercepted any boat that approached the convoy and conducted security boardings as necessary. Also in 2003, the cutter was part of the search following the controversial crash of EgyptAir 900 just south of Nantucket Island killing all 217 people aboard. Most recently, the cutter assisted in search and rescue, law enforcement and environmental protection efforts following Hurricane Sandy, the super storm that hit the Northeast coast in late 2012.
Lt. Conor Sullivan, commanding officer of the cutter, has been impressed in regards that no matter the mission or circumstance, the crew has been always ready.
“What I will remember most about Bainbridge Island is the resiliency of the crew,” said Sullivan. “Half of my current crewmembers rode out Hurricane Sandy as their belongings were damaged or lost in the storm. The crew returned to flooded houses, totaled cars and a missing homeport pier. They then shifted homeports to Bayonne and tackled all the logistical issues of moving ports while maintaining operations.
This past winter we rode out storm after storm on this aging cutter, battling the elements, battling mechanical issues and staying in the fight, ready to answer the search and rescue call if a fellow mariner found themselves in peril,” Sullivan added.
After the Bainbridge Island is decommissioned Sullivan and the crew will take control of the Coast Guard Cutter Sitkinak, which was previously stationed in Miami Beach, Fla.
“To me the Bainbridge Island represents among the very best collection of Coast Guardsmen I have ever known,” said Sullivan. “I am grateful that they will be taking over Sitkinak with me, for if I had to hand pick a crew, it would be them.”