210 Feet of Familiar
Any coastwise American those who earned their sealegs will take one look at this image from the Royal Navy and, while they may not be able to pinpoint which of the Queen’s surface combatants is in the background right off of their head, the profile of the gray warship in the foreground is recognizable as a Reliance-class Coast Guard cutter.
For the record, the two ships are Type 23 (Duke class) frigate HMS Kent (F78) and the Sri Lankan Navy’s SLNS Samudura (P261), the latter the former USCGC Courageous (WMEC-622), captured in a pass-ex together in the Indian Ocean as the HMS Queen Elizabeth CGS21 heads back to the UK from a Pacific cruise.
Courageous, built as WPC-622 on the shores of Lake Erie at ASBC in Lorain, Ohio in the mid-1960s, and was commissioned 19 April 1968, making her 54 years old.
The Reliance class, originally laid down as patrol craft (WPCs) were the final American maritime vessels equipped from the start with WWII-era 3″/50 manually-laid deck guns. The main feature of the class was their huge helicopter deck– capable of handling the Coast Guard’s version of the HH-3 Jolly Green Giant– and a CODAG engineering plant, a dramatic change from the service’s 255-foot circa 1945 cutters. They cost about $3.4 million per hull, in 1964 dollars.
Originally stationed in Puerto Rico then shifted to Cape Canaveral and finally Portsmouth, Courageous spent most of her career running around the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Florida Straits and was involved in all manner of Coastie-classic duties including putting down a mutiny at sea on a German merchantman (M/V Helga Witt), taking a blazing tanker in tow (Mobile Apex, 1969), hosting international oceanographic and meteorological experiments, pulling hundreds of assorted migrants from “rafts” deep at sea, coming to the rescue of craft at the mercy of the ocean, and, of course, making huge drug busts.
Speaking to the latter, she twice earned the “Bust of the Year” title for 1977’s interception of the Calabres with 240,000 pounds of grass, and 1981’s seizure of the Hermigua carrying another 400,000 pounds of leafy green. Ahh, the old days.
Following a $20 million 1990 reconstruction that gutted and replaced her powerplant, changed her topside appearance, and deep-sixed the 3-inch popgun for a much smaller 25mm MK38 chain gun.
Decommissioned 19 September 2001 after a 33-year career (keep in mind 14 of her sisters are still in active USCG service, hitting the beat regularly on 30-60 day patrols)m she was laid up until 2005 when she was given as military aid to Sri Lanka, entering service as Samudura. Notably, she has had her armament greatly increased, putting a 40mm L60 Bofors in place of the old 25mm mount, adding two twin 23mm AAA guns, and installing four Dshkas on the bridge wings and stern.
And she is still up to her old tricks.
Last March, her crew was responsible for the largest drug seizure in the Sri Lankan Navy’s history of 400 kilos of heroin and 100 kilos of crystal methamphetamine valued at $33.5 million.
Apparently, you can take the cutter out of the Florida Straits but you can’t take the Florida Straits out of the cutter.