If you spend enough time on the water in Sitka Sound you’ll likely see some very large Coast Guard ships, some small runabouts, and of course helicopters. This summer, however, you’ll also see a couple of boats in a different class: fast, 29-footers designed to perform a broad range of near-coastal missions.
The two boats and their eight crew members are on deployment from the Maritime Safety and Security Team in Seattle. They are trained in search and rescue, law enforcement, and federal marine resource authority.
Chief Petty Officer Joseph Wozniak says the Maritime Safety and Security Team — or MSST — can drop in wherever needed.
“Our capabilities are to augment different sectors of the Coast Guard,” Wozniak said. “There are so many miles of coastline and not enough people to protect it, or carry out that mission. That’s where my unit comes in.”
There are eleven MSST’s around the country — all deployable anywhere in the word, according to Wozniak. His unit sent two boats to Lake Cour d’Alene, Idaho, to assist in the search for the victims of a fatal plane collision there on July 6. The two boats in Sitka this summer belong to the seven total assigned to Seattle.
Wozniak says MSST-Seattle is a busy patrol.
“When we’re not deployed, we operate in the Puget Sound on the US-Canada border,” he said. “Locally in Seattle we do a lot of missions as far as waterside security. There are a lot of high-capacity passenger vessels with the ferry system in Seattle, so we are constantly on the water, one way or another.”
Arriving in Sitka earlier this month, the MSST first had to ride out COVID testing and a quarantine, while getting to know the area waters from Peril Strait to Crawfish Inlet. Wozniak says that once the team is cleared for duty, Sitkans can expect recreational and commercial vessel boardings and inspections — with the emphasis on safety. He says it’s not about running up numbers.
“We don’t have any quotas or standard requirements to be out there, but we’re definitely eager to take advantage of the good weather windows, and complete patrols of opportunity as much as we can,” said Wozniak.
Wozniak says the MSST works closely with the local dockside safety examiner. If he’s on the water and sees two boats — one with a dockside safety examination sticker, and one without — Wozniak says that nine times out of ten he’ll stop and talk with the operator of the uninspected boat.
And, being Coast Guard, safety doesn’t stop on the beach.
“We actually helped a guy change his flat tire coming down from Harbor Mountain, and he asked how he could repay us,” Wozniak said. “And we’re like, ‘We’re just paying it forward, and we’re here to help however we can.’”
The Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team’s deployment in Sitka runs through August, when the two 29-footers will be trailered back onto a barge and returned to Seattle.