CHARLESTON, S.C. — After 45 years serving the nation, the American flag was lowered down for the last time on the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin on Wednesday, and the vessel was transferred to the Nigerian Navy in a ceremony full of naval pomp.
"It is with a heavy heart that this vessel will no longer sail with our nation's fleet of high endurance cutters," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Bruce Baffer. But he added the Gallatin, now renamed the NNS Okpabana, will see important service off the coast of the African nation.
"Our two countries are united in a common goal of peace," Baffer said, before the Gallatin crew left the vessel for the last time and the American flag was lowered. The Gallatin, transferred under the Excess Defense Article Program, is the second cutter transferred to Nigeria in three years.
"We will cherish this," said Musiliu Obanikoro, Nigeria's minister of state for defense. "It signals the common interest of both American and Nigeria to strengthen the capacity of Nigeria to protect our waters and offshore resources."
He also thanked the United States for its promise to help find 300 teenage girls missing since they were kidnapped from a school by an Islamist extremist group in his country three weeks ago. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the United States will do everything it can to help find them.
The Gallatin, commissioned in 1969, was stationed in New York City until 1996 when it was transferred to Charleston.
During its service over the decades it played a part in 63 major narcotics seizures and during its last mission alone, which ended in December, the Gallatin seized $34 million worth of drugs.
In 2012, as Hurricane Sandy moved up the East Coast, the Gallatin was dispatched to search for crewmembers missing when the tall ship H.M.S. Bounty sank off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Later this year, Charleston will become the home port for the Hamilton, one of a new generation of Coast Guard cutters and the first of its class to be based on the East Coast. Three of the new cutters are already based in California.
The new cutters are bigger and faster than the Gallatin and can be operated with smaller crews — 110 crewmen compared to the Gallatin's 170. The new cutters also have a longer range and state-of-the art surveillance equipment.