This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.
William H. Thiesen
Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian
Today, Nov. 15, 2018, Coast Guard Cutter Dependable (WMEC-626) celebrates its 50th anniversary at its current homeport of Little Creek, Virginia.
Commissioned in November 1968, Dependable is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter named for an inspirational trait meaning capable of being depended on and worthy of trust. The cutter was built at the American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio, and sports a very appropriate motto: “Count on Us–Credibility Built on Excellence.” While many of its sisterships had their namesakes handed down through generations of earlier cutters, Dependable is the first cutter to bear this name.
Dependable has been stationed at nearly half-a-dozen homeports. For the first 23 years of service, the ships was based in Panama City, Florida. In its first 12 years there, the crews who served aboard the cutter served in Gulf response efforts. These included saving disabled fishing vessels, assisting with deadly oil rig fires, rescuing recreational boaters and aiding with commercial shipping mishaps. For example, in January 1974, Dependable remained on scene for four days while its crew battled fires at the Mississippi River site of a collision between the 551-foot tanker Key Trader and the 650-foot bulk carrier Baune. In addition, Dependable played a vital role in the 1980 Cuban Exodus (a.k.a. Mariel Boatlift) response effort earning the Humanitarian Service Medal.
In 1976, Dependable began one of the most successful drug interdiction careers of any Coast Guard cutter. In 1978, Dependable alone interdicted 15 percent of the marijuana seized by the Coast Guard, its largest seizure that year being 120 tons taken off the Motor Vessel Heidi. Dependable received national recognition in August 1981, after seizing nine tons of marijuana aboard Fishing Vessel Sea King. This seizure earned Dependable the coveted Golden Marijuana Leaf, which recognizes a cutter that seizes over one million pounds of marijuana. During the 1980s, Dependable’s successful counter narcotics operations garnered it the nickname among smugglers of “Scourge of the Caribbean.”
In January 1992, the service transferred Dependable to Galveston, Texas. Throughout its time there, the cutter conducted missions from the Caribbean Basin to the North Atlantic. All the while, its primary missions remained living marine resources (LMR) enforcement, marine safety and security, and maritime interdiction. Three years after transferring to Galveston, Dependable went into the shipyard to undergo Major Maintenance Availability taking two years to upgrade its systems and modernize equipment. In 1997, after its refit, the cutter relocated to Portsmouth, Virginia, and three years later, moved to Cape May, New Jersey.
In 2000, Dependable began a 16-year tenure at Cape May. However, in 2005, the cutter’s operational career was interrupted a second time for an overhaul—this time for the Mission Effectiveness Project or MEP. This major overhaul modernized selected systems in the cutter, adding numerous years to Dependable’s service life. In 2007, the cutter completed MEP, becoming the first in its class to do so.
Dependable continued to lead by example. Between 2009 and 2011, the cutter conducted North Atlantic LMR patrols in support of operations “Ocean Hunter” and “Atlantic Venture,” setting a fleet record of nearly 350 boardings enforcing safety standards and fisheries laws for commercial and recreational fishermen. In January 2010, Dependable was one of the first cutters to respond to the Haiti Earthquake. The crews patrolled the Haitian Coast repatriating the first 78 migrants interdicted at sea earning the Armed Services Medal. Between 2011 and 2016, Dependable served as Task Unit Commander in New England waters supporting Operation Atlantic Venture and conducted hundreds of boardings in Northeastern waters. During this time, the crews interdicted numerous smuggling vessels and seized thousands of pounds of marijuana and cocaine. For example, in a September 2013 drug bust, Dependable interdicted 630 kilograms of cocaine, the largest narcotics seizure in the history of the Coast Guard 1st District.
In 2016, Dependable transferred homeports from Cape May to Little Creek, Virginia – a military port that has enjoyed a Coast Guard presence for over 75 years. While steaming out of Little Creek, Dependable forged partnerships with foreign and domestic agencies and lived-up to its reputation in drug interdiction. As Commander Task Unit 44.7.7 with Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, in the Florida Straits, Dependable coordinated assets and personnel from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), Royal Bahamian Defense Forces, Coast Guard 7th District, and Cuban Border Guard forces in the joint interdiction of narcotics smugglers. Dependable orchestrated dozens of boardings accounting for the seizure of 1,250 pounds of marijuana and over 6,000 pounds of cocaine with a total street value of nearly $100 million. In one case, the crew of Dependable interdicted a smuggling vessel carrying nearly 4,000 pounds of marijuana. Dependable also worked with Guatemala’s Fuerza Especial Naval, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to seize nearly 7,000 pounds of cocaine, worth over $112 million, and the detention of 13 narco-traffickers. Today, Dependable proudly displays on its bridge the Golden Marijuana Leaf, dozens of additional marijuana leaves and several cocaine snowflakes representing its successful drug interdiction career.
In recent deployments, Dependable has focused on LMR enforcement, maritime interdiction and humanitarian response missions. The cutter’s boarding teams check permitted fishing vessels for compliance with federal regulations and ensure safe conditions on board these vessels. These LMR patrols are critical to protecting the multi-billion dollar U.S. fishing industry and sustaining living marine resources, such as fish, sea turtles, and other sea creatures. In 2018, Dependable performed Hurricane Florence response operations in support of Sector North Carolina and Coast Guard 5th District. The crews aided in the rebuilding of Sector Field Office Fort Macon, which aided the SFO in returning to a mission capable status and helped DHS partners and local organizations rebuild the community. During this mission, Dependable also assisted in reopening the waterway in Morehead City, North Carolina, which is critical to commerce in the region.
In its distinguished career, Dependable has received countless honors and awards. In addition to receiving the Humanitarian Service Medal for the Mariel Boatlift and the Armed Services Medal for the Haiti Earthquake response, Dependable has earned several Coast Guard Unit Commendations, nearly half-a-dozen Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations and countless Coast Guard “E” ribbons representing superior operational readiness. The cutter has faithfully served the long blue line for 50 years.