Following an extended $6 million seven-month dry dock maintenance period in Seattle, the one-of-a-kind 282-foot British-built Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley (WMEC-39) returned to her homeport at Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Alaska earlier this month.
As noted by Coast Guard 17th District (Alaska)
The engineering department oversaw 76 work items including major overhauls on the cutter’s controllable pitch propeller system, speed reducers, rudders, and boilers, along with inspections of fuel, sewage, and water tanks. The operations department supervised a renewal of Alex Haley’s flight deck, navigation systems, and electronics while maintaining critical law enforcement currencies. The deck department expertly completed vast amounts of painting and topside preservation, while ensuring small boat operational readiness.
In typical USCG fashion, Haley is one of the oldest ships in the U.S. maritime service, with 56 years on her hull and another decade of service looming.
Built by Brooke Marine in Lowestoft, Sussex between 1967-71 as USS Edenton (ATS-1), the 3,500-ton vessel was the lead ship of a three-hull class of salvage and rescue ship capable of worldwide operations.
Joining the fleet when commissioned on 23 January 1971, as part of the Second Fleet, she would go on to complete no less than nine extended Med cruises and one West Pac deployment before she was decommissioned on 29 March 1996, completing 25 years “haze gray and underway.” Of note, the builder of the class, Brooke Marine, had gone into receivership and been sold off almost a decade prior, while the class’s Paxman diesels were increasingly unsupportable.
Edenton was stricken from the Navy List on 29 December 1997.
While her sisters USS Beaufort (ATS-2) and Brunswick (ATS-3) would be retired at the same time, they would retain their extensive salvage gear fit and be sold in a hot “as-is” transfer to the South Korean Navy, where they linger in service as ROKS Pyeongtaek (ATS-27) and ROKS Gwangyang (ATS-28), respectively.
As for Edenton, over a two-year period, she would land much of her deep water salvage gear to make room for a helo deck, grab a white paint scheme with a racing stripe, trade her vintage Mk 16 20mm guns for MK38 Bushmaster 25mm mounts, swap her Paxmans for Catapillars, and ship off to Kodiak where she would take the place after WWII-era icebreaking cutter USCGC Storis (WAGL-38/WMEC-38) was retired, as the Coast Guard’s primary live-in asset in the Bering Sea. Of note, that is why Haley carries the next hull number in line (WMEC-39) after Storis.
Her missions typically involve search and rescue, fisheries law enforcement, and vessel safety inspections across Alaska.
Since her commissioning in USCG service on 10 July 1999, ex-Edenton has carried the name of the late Alexander Palmer Haley, Chief Journalist, USCG (Ret.).
Long before he drew international acclaim for Roots, Haley enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 as a mess attendant/steward and, serving through WWII on the cutters Mendoza and Pamlico and in the Pacific Threatre on the cargo vessel USS Murzim (AK-95), contributed articles to the Coast Guard Magazine and started a mimeographed ship’s newspaper. Switching to a Journalist rate in 1949, he would transfer to the Reserve list in 1959, completing 20 years of active duty including WWII service across three theatres and Korean War service. He would then go on to become a senior editor for Reader’s Digest and conduct a series of brilliant interviews for Playboy in the 1960s, back when folks really did buy it for the articles, before becoming a household name.