Coast Guard's newest ship filled with holes

Reuters / Molly Riley
What is 418-feet long, costs millions to build and can move a crew of 110 men across the ocean at a speed of 28 knots? Until last month, the answer was the US Coast Guard’s newest security cutter, the Stratton.

That all changed in April, however, when sailors onboard the brand new, 6-month old boat spotted a hole in the ship’s hull. And then another. And then another. And then another.

Now not even a year after the Coast Guard acquired the Stratton for an estimated half a billion dollars, engineers are docking the ship so that they can figure out how to fix four holes on the Stratton and also deal with an epidemic of oxidation that is causing spots of rust to ravage the boat.

Capt.Charles Cashin, the commander of the ship, tells the Associated Press that he first became aware of the problems last month. The series of holes were patched up at the time, he says, but now the ship is being sent back onto land to be fixed permanently. Despite the boat being only a few months old, a spokesman for the Coast Guard confirms to the AP that it will take upwards of six weeks’ worth of work to get the Stratton back to ship shape.

Cashin adds that he is “very confident in the safety of the ship and the crew” and insists that, even while awaiting repairs, the Stratton is still seaworthy. What will occur after another six months of use, however, is anyone’s guess.

Given the strong ties between the military and the boat’s manufactures, though, another incident on par with the problems suffered by the Stratton might arise more sooner than later.

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the builder of the ship, boasted a backlog of work totaling $15.5 billion as of March 31, 2012. They are the only manufacturer of aircraft carriers used by the US military and one of only two companies that creates the country’s submarines. HII was formally the shipbuilding sector with the major defense contractor Northrop Grumman until last year when they officially parted ways and started being publically traded. Those ties with the Pentagon have only become stronger, though.

Among the other projects that HII has in store for Uncle Sam are plans for an amphibious transport dock ship for the Navy — the Defense Department awarded that $1.5 billion contract to the company last year. In March 2012, the Coast Guard awarded HII another $76 million fixed-price contract to procure the materials for a sixth National Security Cutter similar to the Stratton. In all, the Pentagon is expected to provide HII with around $88 million for that project.

“This award demonstrates the Coast Guard's ongoing commitment to the National Security Cutter program and continued confidence in our shipbuilders,” Mike Duthu, Ingalls' program manager, explained last month.

Reflecting on their first year of operations in March, HII CEO Mike Petters issued a press release saying that the previous 12 months marked“a very successful first year”  for the company.

"We accomplished many things for the very first time in establishing the new business while continuing to do what we do best: building ships,” said Petters.

Given the latest news, however, Petters and company might soon find themselves in hot water — and not the kind that a few patches can fix.