The Nigerian Navy yesterday received the former US Coast Guard cutter Gallatin during a formal ceremony in Charleston, the United States, where it was renamed NNS Okpabana.
The vessel was decommissioned on March 31 after 45 years of service. Personnel from the Nigerian Navy have been in Charleston for training on the vessel prior to its delivery voyage.
The transfer ceremony on Wednesday was attended by Nigerian Navy officers, coast guardsmen and visitors, who witnessed the lowering of the US flag and its replacement by the Nigerian flag, reports the Charleston Post Courier. At the end of the ceremony, Nigerian Navy personnel went aboard the vessel o take command.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Bruce Baffer and Nigerian Minister of State for Defence Musiliu Obanikoro signed transfer documents in front of spectators, marking the official handoff of the ship to Nigeria.
“It’s with a heavy heart that this proud ship will no longer sail among our fleet of high-endurance cutters. But that sadness is tempered with pride as she begins a new life under the capable watch of professional sailors and now our close friends,” said Baffer.
“(The vessel) will continue to execute humanitarian missions for Nigeria, an important ally, security partner and collaborator in the struggle against global terror….Our two countries are united in our common goals for peace, safety, security and freedom of the seas.”
“We will cherish this. It signals the common interest of both American and Nigeria to strengthen the capacity of Nigeria to protect our waters and offshore resources,” Obanikoro was quoted by the Charlotte Observer as saying.
The Navy Times said Gallatin has had a busy career, covering such missions as maritime law enforcement, humanitarian relief, search and rescue and ambassadorial duties. Last year the cutter seized several tons of cocaine being smuggled from Latin America and the Caribbean. Apart from drug missions, Gallatin was involved in dealing with the mass migration of 27 000 Cubans in 1994; the search for the crew of the HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and in responding to the St Vincent volcano eruption of 1979.
The 3 250 ton vessel is the last high endurance cutter on the East Coast to be commissioned, although there are seven still in service on America’s West Coast. Gallatin will be replaced by a more modern cutter, the USCGC Hamilton, which requires only 120 crew compared to the 170 needed for the elderly Gallatin.
The 115 metre long 3 250 ton Gallatin is a member of the Hamilton class – the Nigerian Navy has already taken delivery of the Hamilton class cutter Chase (now NNS Thunder), which was commissioned in January 2012. Other vessels received from the United States include the NNS Obula, Nwamba, Kyanwa and Ologbo.
Although an elderly vessel, NNS Thunder was the only African naval ship to participate in the Royal Australian Navy Centenary International Fleet Review, sailing to Australia in August 2013 and returning in December.
Gallatin, introduced into Coast Guard service in 1968, is equipped with a helicopter flight deck, retractable hangar and a fast boat. The High Endurance Cutter has four main engines and can be driven by either twin diesel engines or twin gas turbines via two controllable-pitch propellers.
Last year Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, said Gallatin, as well as the US Navy Survey Ship John McDonnell also destined for the Nigerian Navy, would be inspected between May and August 2014.
The USNS John McDonnell was deactivated on August 25, 2010, as the US Navy streamlined survey operations. The 63 metre, 2 054 ton oceanographic survey vessel can launch two 34 foot launches.