By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 30) - A new U.S. Coast Guard ship will be patrolling the Marianas, a development that is seen to boost homeland security in the Commonwealth.

The 225-foot USCG cutter Sequoia will be replacing the Sassafras, a ship that was deployed to the South Pacific region since 1944.

"We'll be covering the CNMI," said Ensign Meaghan Mercer, the USCG's public affairs officer based on Guam, citing that patrolling the CNMI's territorial waters is part of the Coast Guard's primary mission.

The Coast Guard is under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Sequoia is equipped with a modern computer system, allowing for less crew on board.

"This new class of cutters is equipped with a Dynamic Positioning System and a special propulsion system allowing the ship to maneuver in one spot. These improvements allow the newer class of buoy tenders to work faster with a smaller crew complement and position aids to navigation with greater accuracy," Mercer said.

The Sequoia would augment the presence of Navy ships docked on CNMI waters to deter illegal activities and terrorists that would use the sea as a point of entry.

A few months ago, some residents on Saipan expressed concern over the unnoticed entry of a wooden Philippine boat carrying six foreign nationals and an American. Although the aliens were not criminals, they lacked the travel documents to lawfully enter CNMI jurisdiction.

The Sequoia replaces the Sassafras, which would be decommissioned by the Coast Guard tomorrow, in a scheduled ceremony at the Victor Wharf, U.S. Naval Activities on Guam.

The Sassafras, a 180-foot vessel, was dispatched initially to see action during World War II. Before the ship was homeported in Apra Harbor, Guam, Mercer said the Sassafras had homeported in San Francisco; Honolulu; Cape May, New Jersey; and the Governors Island, New York.

"In Guam, the Sassafras has participated in countless missions, including aids to navigation, search and rescue, law enforcement, marine environmental protection and response, and national defense," the Coast Guard ensign said.

The old USGC ship would be donated to the Nigerian Navy, said Mercer. In Nigeria, Sassafras would be used to combat illegal oil trade and for search and rescue missions.

October 30, 2003

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