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USCG Commissions Third Fast Response Cutter, William Flores

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On Nov. 3, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard commissioned its third Sentinel-class fast response cutter (FRC), the William Flores (WPC 1103), into its fleet during a ceremony at the Port of Tampa at Channelside Cruise Terminal 3. The cutter is named for one of its enlisted heroes, William R. Flores.

“Officers and crew of the Coast Guard Cutter William Flores, you may board and bring the cutter to life,” said Carolyn Flores Ahlstrom, William’s sister and ship’s sponsor. Before a crowd of about 200, she gave the ceremonial order from the podium standing in front of the vessel named for her brother. “What a comfort, and tremendous pride, to be recognized by such a great honor – having a Coast Guard cutter bear his name.”

U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice William R. Flores, a Coast Guard hero who died while saving the lives of many of his shipmates while his buoy tender, Blackthorn, sank. U.S. Coast Gurad photo

On Jan. 28, 1980, the 180-foot Coast Guard buoy tender Blackthorn collided with the 605-foot oil tanker SS Capricorn near the entrance to Tampa Bay. Flores, an 18-year-old seaman apprentice who had only been in the service a few months, stayed aboard the capsizing Blackthorn and used his belt to tie open a life jacket locker door, allowing life jackets to float out as the ship went down, and distributed life jackets to crewmembers in the water at the cost of his own life. He perished along with 22 of his shipmates. Twenty-seven of Flores’ crewmembers did escape the sinking ship, many of whom owe their lives to him.

The 154-foot Sentinel-class patrol boats replace the 110-foot Island-class cutters that have been in service since the mid-1980s. The first 18 of the planned 58 FRCs will be homeported in Coast Guard District 7, which is headquartered in Miami, Fla.

Crewmembers of the CGC William Flores salute during its commissioning ceremony Nov. 3, 2012. The commissioning ceremony is a Coast Guard tradition that officially places a cutter into active service. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael De Nyse

Compared to the Island-class cutters, the FRC, with a crew of 24, is larger yet faster; has much better sea-keeping capability in heavier weather; can keep the crew out longer in bad or good weather; has better sensors and communications equipment; and has a fast over-the-horizon interceptor boat that can be launched from the cutter’s stern ramp. The Sentinel-class cutters are designed to have a range of 2,500 nautical miles and are armed with a MK 38 25 mm gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.

The first six FRCs for District 7 will be homeported in Miami; the next six in Key West; and the remaining six in Puerto Rico. The first two FRCs, the Bernard C. Webber and the Richard Etheridge, are already in commission.

Sentinel-class cutters are named to honor the service’s enlisted heroes. The first 14 namesakes of the fast response cutters have been identified and designated:

  • Bernard C. Webber
  • Richard Etheridge
  • William R. Flores
  • Robert Yered
  • Margaret Norvell
  • Paul Clark
  • Charles David
  • Charles Sexton
  • Kathleen Moore
  • Joseph Napier
  • William Trump
  • Isaac Mayo
  • Richard Dixon
  • Heriberto Hernandez

The fourth fast response cutter, the Robert Yered, is scheduled to be commissioned in early 2013 in Miami.