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Interview: Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft



Adm. Paul Zukunft assumed the duties of the 25th commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard on May 30, 2014. He leads the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security, composed of 88,000 personnel including active duty, Reserve, civilian, and volunteer auxiliarists.

Prior to this, Zukunft served as commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area, where he was operational commander for all U.S. Coast Guard missions in an area encompassing more than 74 million square miles and provided mission support to the Department of Defense and combatant commanders. Other flag assignments include commander of the 11th Coast Guard District and director, Joint Interagency Task Force West, where he served as executive agent to U.S. Pacific Command for combating Transnational Criminal Organizations in the Asia-Pacific Region.

In 2010, Zukunft served as the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon Spill of National Significance, where he directed more than 47,000 responders, 6,500 vessels, and 120 aircraft during the largest oil spill in U.S. history. His senior staff assignments included chief of operations, Coast Guard Pacific Area, and chief of operations oversight, Coast Guard Atlantic Area, where he directly supervised all major cutter operations in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. He also served as chief of staff at the 14th Coast Guard District in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Zukunft has commanded six units and served extensively in the cutter fleet, where he commanded the cutters Cape Upright, Harriet Lane, and Rush.

A native of North Branford, Connecticut, Zukunft graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree in government; from Webster University in 1988 with a Master of Arts degree in management; and from the U.S. Naval War College in 1997 with a Master of Arts degree in national security and strategic studies. He is a graduate of the Asia Pacific Center for Strategic Studies Executive Seminar and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government National Preparedness Leadership Initiative course.

His personal awards include the Department of Homeland Security and Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medals, Defense Superior Service Medal, three Legions of Merit, and five Meritorious Service Medals with “O” device, among others.

In your first State of the Coast Guard Address, you said the service was facing a time like none other in its 225 years of service – and you said this was in part due to the challenges presented by the U.S. energy renaissance. How has it affected the demand for Coast Guard services, and what has the Coast Guard done to meet this demand?

Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft: Well, I didn’t realize, when I gave the State of the Coast Guard address that we would watch the price per barrel of oil plummet to where [it is] today. I recently overflew Port Fourchon, Louisiana, which is probably the center of gravity for all of the offshore drilling in the entire Gulf of Mexico, and it’s literally a parking lot right now. Does that mean oil will stay at $45 a barrel, or will it at some point recover? It will change, and when it does, I expect all those vessels will be contracted and then out at sea again.

Last year, every day a new tank barge went into our inland river system carrying Bakken crude oil, from fracking in the nation’s heartland, to our ports in eastern Galveston and Corpus Christi where it is refined. We’re beginning to see the potential for the United States being eventually a net exporter of oil.

Our focus on the Western Hemisphere is a risk position for us, a look at the threat it poses to American national security and our communities.

So one, we’re looking at the workforce of the 21st century, to make sure we have inspectors who know this industry inside and out as it evolves – and I mean the shipping industry as well as the energy industry. We have U.S.-flagged containerized ships that now can either burn traditional fuel or they can burn LNG [liquefied natural gas], which is a new propulsion technology.

And as we look at our inland river systems, we maintain those much the way we have for the last hundred-plus years. But there is new technology out, and maybe we don’t need buoys every nautical mile on every mile of those waterways. Some of those can be what’s called electronic aids to navigation. But those are decisions we would never make unilaterally. We’re currently engaged with the stakeholders.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...