Your Views for January 23

Bring back Coast Guard

So, after 27 years, Hawaii Island lost its only U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Kiska, to Guam in September, and Oahu is getting three new ones. Two recent events, one affecting all of us and another one, more personal to me, prompted this editorial.

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Our first grandchild is following his life-long dream and will soon be sworn in to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. And a few days ago, on Jan. 13, we all woke up to the now infamous missile alert, telling us to seek shelter: “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

For a few moments, it was real. What do we do first? Where do I go? What can I do? I vote for personal responsibility and being prepared for a supply chain problem on the outer islands. If it’s a real attack, it seems logical that Oahu would be the more likely target.

Nothing has changed since World War II, in that we have a concentrated military presence all on one island. It wouldn’t have to be a ballistic missile. If North Korea or any other faction wanted to do us serious harm, any explosive device(s) could cause massive devastation on Oahu. While the Coast Guard is only one branch, why put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak? Why concentrate the Coast Guard on one vulnerable island?

Regarding a need for a cutter of our own, we have cruise ships porting in Hilo and docking offshore in Kona weekly. During the winter, there can be one in Hilo or Kona nearly daily. Cargo barges and fuel tankers are in and out daily to keep us supplied. The Hilo airport and local rescue personnel practice drills every year for potential emergencies involving diverted aircraft. What if an airliner went down in the water?

The new cutters will all be stationed on Oahu, though they’ll be “patrolling” the main Hawaiian Islands. What we’ll have for emergencies will be a dolphin helicopter 90 minutes away, or an HC-130 about 45 minutes away, assuming weather conditions permit.

Googling Guam, its 2017 population is 165,715. Hawaii Island, the second most populous island, is at 186,738. Unlike Oahu, we have a robust growth rate and increasing visitor arrivals.

Was the cutter and her staff moved to Guam because North Korea could fly a missile there? If that fact went into the decision, we all know now that we also are a target, as is the mainland. We have a naval base in Guam; one would assume the Navy is well-prepared for ocean rescues.

When decisions such as this are made, someone in the Coast Guard would have prepared a “risk-assessment,” and that assessment should be shared with the public, so we know the “why” of the move.

Finally, Mayor Harry Kim asked the Coast Guard for the contingency plan and was clearly worried about any rescues that occur farther than a mile away from our shores. Since the September articles, there has been no follow up regarding the contingency in the press.

Contingencies usually are just a Band-Aid and should be temporary. In my experience, they usually become permanent. It seems there are many scenarios in which it would be prudent to have a larger Coast Guard presence here on Hawaii Island, and after Jan. 13, it’s even more important.

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Richard Leach

Hilo