WILMINGTON -- The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Diligence is preparing to leave port in Wilmington. But this time, it won't return.
Coast Guard leaders confirmed Thursday that the Diligence, which has been stationed in downtown Wilmington for nearly three decades, is leaving the Port City for Pensacola, Florida.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadler of the Coast Guard's Atlantic sector said the relocation will happen sometime next year.
"Right now we're still in the planning stages of that, but we expect that to happen before Sept. 30, 2020," he said.
Wadler said he was still seeking answers from the Coast Guard chain of command for reasons behind the move.
"The Coast Guard does from time to time shift their home ports, and that can be for a variety of reasons, including ease of maintenance and replacing another cutter," he said. "If there is a replacement cutter for the Diligence being identified, I haven't heard about that yet."
Wadler said the Diligence's crew of 85 to 100 sailors will be moving with the ship, but other Coast Guard operations in the area, including the Sector North Carolina headquarters in Wilmington, will not be impacted.
"We're still going to have the Coast Guard section there and Station Wrightsville Beach, and then we've also got Station Oak Island," he said.
In 2003, Wilmington was designated as the first "Coast Guard City" on the East Coast, and the fourth in the nation. Wadler said the Diligence moving will not mean Wilmington loses that designation.
Diligence spends approximately 185 days at sea each year, assisting in drug and migrant interdiction efforts mainly around Florida and in the Caribbean Sea.
The Diligence has been stationed in Wilmington since the mid-1990s, after undergoing a $28 million refurbishment. According to the Coast Guard, Florida is the cutter's original home, docked in Key West from 1964 to 1983, and Cape Canaveral from 1983 to 1990.
The ship is named for an historic U.S. Revenue Cutter stationed in Wilmington starting in 1792.
U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., said he wasn't happy when he heard the Diligence would be leaving Wilmington, but he understood where the Coast Guard was coming from.
He said the service's new generation of cutters, built to tackle today's security needs and missions, are too big to be berthed in Wilmington, and home porting similar ships together would help the agency save money and reduce repair and infrastructure costs.
And, at 52, the Diligence wasn't going to be around much longer anyway and would be based with its sister ships in Florida before being taken out of service in the next few years.
The Coast Guard, Rouzer said, still plans to spend $6.7 million to rebuild and repair the bulkhead just north of the city's Riverfront Park, where the Diligence is berthed.
He added that the Coast Guard also has agreed to bring the Diligence, or a similar-sized vessel, back to downtown for major events like the N.C. Azalea Festival.
"Their commitment to Wilmington remains very strong," Rouzer said.
Staff Writer Gareth McGrath contributed reporting.
This article is written by Cammie Bellamy from Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.