USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717)




USCGC MELLON's keel was laid on July 25, 1966 at Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans, LA. CGC MELLON was launched on February 11, 1967 and was commissioned on January 9, 1968. She was named after Andrew W. Mellon 49th Secretary of the Treasury from 1921-1932. MELLON is the third in her class of seven high endurance cutters built by Avondale Shipyards. She was sponsored on her commissioning date by Mrs. John W. Warner Jr. granddaughter of the late Secretary Andrew W. Mellon.

CGC MELLON was designed to perform each of the Coast Guard’s missions, which then included search and rescue, defense operations, law enforcement, environmental protection and oceanographic research. She was built with a welded steel hull and aluminum superstructure. CGC MELLON was one of the first naval vessels built with a combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion plant. The twin screws can use 7,000 diesel shaft horsepower to make 17 knots, and a total of 36,000 gas turbine shaft horsepower to make 28 knots. The diesel engines are Fairbanks-Morse and are larger versions of a 1968 diesel locomotive design. Her Pratt-Whitney marine gas turbine engines are similar to those installed in Boeing 707 passenger jet aircraft. It is worth noting that CGC MELLON was among the first American vessels to use jet aircraft-type turbines for propulsion.

CGC MELLON was classified as a "high endurance cutter," one which was designed to remain at sea for extended periods of time to undertake mid-ocean search and rescue operations and to conduct law enforcement and national security missions. The 2748-ton cutter’s crossing range is 10,000 miles at 20 knots. This is approximately the distance from New York to Melbourne, Australia. CGC MELLON was originally built with an 80-foot long flight deck and "balloon shelter." CGC MELLON was one of the newer ships of her class to have a joystick helm. The previous High Endurance Cutters were equipped with standard ship’s wheels as helms. She was also equipped with extensive anti-submarine warfare equipment, including the Mk46 torpedo and the AN/SQS-26 sonar. In January 1990, MELLON was first in her class to fire the Harpoon missile. The ASW and Harpoon launching systems were later removed due to budget constraints.

CGC MELLON makes full use of recent technological advances in shipboard electronics. SEAWATCH is the most advanced system in use in the Coast Guard. It incorporates a network of numerous computers including large screen displays and a dedicated satellite network for communications. CGC MELLON is equipped with multiple redundant navigation systems including the Differential Global Positioning System (dGPS). The ship was recently equipped with the AN/SPS-78 digital surface radar system that incorporates a state of the art computerized collision avoidance system. CGC MELLON was also one of the first cutters to employ closed circuit TV cameras to monitor engineering systems and operations on deck. During helicopter evolutions, these cameras eliminate "blind spots" on the ship and enable the crew to conduct these operations with an enhanced degree of safety.

CGC Mellon’s first Commanding Officer, Captain Robert P. Cunningham, was the first Coast Guard aviator to command a 378-foot cutter. Her first crew numbered approximately 150 personnel. The crew began training at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, HI before Mellon's commissioning.

CGC Mellon was originally homeported in Honolulu, HI. When she arrived in Honolulu, she earned the nickname "Mellon No Ka Oi," or "Mellon best of all." She received the Safety Award on August 1, 1968 by Rear Admiral B. F. Engel, Commander, 14th Coast Guard District.

Shortly after her arrival in Honolulu, Mellon departed for a naval show in San Diego, CA. Then considered "state of the art" in naval vessel design, she impressed those in attendance with her maneuverability and speed. She demonstrated the ability to reach speeds greater than 20 knots within two ship lengths from a standing stop. Newspaper accounts reported that she was able to reach a speed of 20 knots in less than 20 seconds and go from full ahead to full astern in less than one minute. The crowds were also impressed with her maneuverability. She was able to be maneuvered into a narrow berth, without the assistance of tugs, through the use of her bow propulsion unit.

Mellon saw extensive service during the conflict in Vietnam. She was twice awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation during the Vietnam War. She sailed as part of Task Force 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force) which maintained close surveillance over 1,200 miles of Vietnamese coastline and 64,000 licensed watercraft. The task force seized large quantities of war material, preventing it from reaching enemy hands. During her service in the waters adjacent to Vietnam, Mellon also conducted numerous naval gunfire support missions, rescue operations, medical civic action programs and training programs for Vietnamese military personnel.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Mellon’s primary theater of operation shifted to an area of the Pacific Ocean known as "Ocean Station November." Here she performed search and rescue and oceanographic research missions. Coast Guard cutters conducting Ocean Station operations were a primary communication link for commercial aircraft making trans-oceanic flights. Prior to the advent of satellite navigation, weather and communications systems, commercial aviators relied on ocean station cutters, including Mellon, for navigation and weather data. During these ocean station patrols, Mellon provided a vital link for aircraft traveling between the west coast of the United States and the Hawaiian islands. Her job was to establish radio communications with aircraft and ships to facilitate their safe navigation. She also worked closely with elements of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), gathering weather information. Forecasters used this meteorological data to develop weather forecasts for U.S. coastal areas.

While deployed on ocean station duty, Mellon also performed oceanographic research operations. She launched bathythermograph probes into the ocean depths to record temperature and salinity. She also launched weather balloons to record conditions in the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere.

By the mid-1970s, technological advances rendered ocean station duty obsolete. Improvements in long range communications and the installation of weather and navigation satellite constellations made it unnecessary for the Coast Guard to station high endurance cutters at sea to perform these missions. Mellon’s primary area of operation shifted northward to the icy waters of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea where she conducted search and rescue operations and enforced U.S. laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in these areas. Soon after her mission shift, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 was enacted. This act was the baseline for all U.S. fisheries conservation and management activities. It set limits on fishing in order to preserve the resource and it tasked the U.S. Coast Guard with enforcement of these limits.

On her second Alaskan patrol from July-September 1973, Mellon became the first high endurance cutter to moor at the isolated LORAN station on Attu Island in the Aleutian chain.

During a patrol in February 1974, Mellon played a key role in the rescue of crewmembers that survived an explosion, fire and subsequent sinking of the Italian supertanker GIOVANNA LOLLI-GHETTI. CGC MELLON was alerted at midnight of a distress call from a position 230 miles southeast of Hawaii. CGC MELLON arrived on scene at around 1115 the next morning where the Norwegian vessel TAMERLANE was rescuing survivors who had abandoned the Italian tanker. These survivors were then transferred to the CGC MELLON for medical assistance. CGC MELLON put the Italian crew into one berthing area and gave them clean clothes and warm food. A nearby Russian vessel NOVIKOV PRIBOY arrived with many doctors for further medical assistance. All but 7 of the survivors were recovered and taken on CGC MELLON back to Honolulu. This Cold War era rescue, which succeeded only as a result of the close cooperation between vessels from Norway, Russia and the United States, was a positive sign during this period which was other wise marked by intensifying superpower competition.

During her frequent Bering Sea patrols, CGC MELLON often crossed the 180th parallel and entered the Domain of the Golden Dragon. The crew ceremonially commemorated these crossings by conducting the time-honored naval initiation ritual. During this festive ceremony, "pollywogs," or personnel who have not "crossed the line," the threshold to the Far East, are initiated and become "shellbacks." This event is only one example of a wide variety of morale-enhancing activities engaged in during these long separations from friends and family back in homeport. During these earlier Alaskan patrols, CGC MELLON was away from homeport for approximately three months and covered approximately 7000 miles while enforcing laws and treaties established to preserve commercial fishing resources.

In February 1975, during another Alaskan patrol, CGC MELLON assisted the LONDON PIONEER about 900 miles NE of Honolulu after a flash fire occurred in the engine room. The fire severely burned 2 crewmembers and disabled the loaded freighter.

During that same patrol, CGC MELLON also assisted a Liberian bulk carrier that was taking on water in heavy seas. CGC MELLON rendezvoused with the ROSE S. 300 miles NW of Honolulu. The ROSE S. was taking water on at a rate of 300 tons per day. CGC MELLON rescue and assistance personnel boarded the vessel and pumped 250 tons of seawater overboard. CGC MELLON later towed the carrier safely back to Honolulu for repairs.

On the next patrol in August 1975, CGC MELLON responded to a distressed vessel RYUKYO MARU in the waters adjacent to St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Island chain in the Bering Sea. CGC MELLON anchored nearby and supported efforts to recover from a spill of over 300,000 gallons of fuel oil from the vessel into the pristine Bering Sea waters adjacent to St. Paul Island.

On May 11, 1976, CGC MELLON assisted the 60 foot sloop SORCERY. The SORCERY was 1000 miles from shore on a voyage between Tokyo and San Francisco. A towering wave, estimated at over 100 feet, rolled the sloop and broke the mast. The wave destroyed all marine navigation equipment. The vessel’s operator was able to make a distress call with the only surviving piece of electronic equipment, a four pound HAM radio. CGC MELLON was currently near Kodiak, Alaska, when she received the call to divert to assist the 11 crewmembers onboard the SORCERY. CGC MELLON was unable to communicate directly with the SORCERY and relied on two unknown HAM operators to relay vital information between SORCERY and MELLON. These two operators, who were never identified, provided the only communications link between the two vessels. Through them, CGC MELLON obtained the sloop’s last known position, damage assessments and number of crew onboard. CGC MELLON rendezvoused with SORCERY, evacuated the 11 crewmembers and took the damaged sloop in tow. Several of SORCERY’s crew were evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment ashore.

On October 11, 1976, CGC MELLON participated in Alaska Day Festivities during which over 2000 people toured CGC MELLON and the crew participated in the annual parade.

On November 18, 1976 at the end of yet another Alaskan patrol, CGC MELLON received a distress call from the motor vessel CARNELIAN I. The CARNELIAN I was located 100 miles North of Oahu. CGC MELLON rushed to the scene, where Coast Guard aircraft had attempted to drop survival gear to the foundering vessel. On scene weather conditions were terrible with low visibility, high winds and rough seas. The vessel sank rapidly. Demonstrating consummate seamanship, CGC MELLON was able to recover 16 of 33 crewmen who were clinging to logs and debris in the storm-tossed seas.

CGC MELLON was again awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations conducted between 28 June 1975 to 2 February 1976. Her efforts to track and report the identity of vessels that were illegally discharging oil into the ocean were praised highly in the citation.

On March 6, 1977 CGC MELLON spotted a volcanic eruption just a few hours old on Seguam Island in the Aleutian chain. In January 1977, CGC MELLON became the first vessel to use the probe refueling at sea rig. Later in 1977, women were first assigned to CGC MELLON.

In 1980, CGC MELLON assisted in the rescue of 520 passengers and crewmembers from the burning luxury liner PRINSENDAM. The PRINSENDAM was a 427 foot long cruiser liner built in 1973. The liner was transiting through Gulf of Alaska waters, approximately 120 miles south of Yakutat, AK, at midnight on October 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room. The vessel’s master declared the fire out of control one hour later and the PRINSENDAM sent a distress call requesting immediate assistance. The Coast Guard’s rescue coordination center in Juneau, AK, received the message and began to organize a rescue effort. Aircraft were immediately sortied to the scene, including an HH-3 helicopter and a C-130 turbo prop maritime patrol aircraft. At the time, CGC MELLON was on patrol near Vancouver, BC, a distance of 550 nautical miles from PRINSENDAM. CGC MELLON and other cutters diverted to assist. The 1000-foot supertanker, WILLIAMSBURGH, also diverted to render assistance.

The master of the PRINSENDAM ordered the vessel abandoned at approximately 0630. The crew and passengers of the cruise liner filled the lifeboats with only 15 passengers and 25 crewmembers remaining on the PRINSENDAM. WILLIAMSBURGH arrived at 0745 and immediately passengers and crew were transferred from the lifeboats into the helicopter and then to the deck of the supertanker. The remaining crew and passengers from the surrounding lifeboats were transferred to the WILLIAMSBURGH. Sometime in the mid-afternoon the USCGC BOUTWELL arrived to assist. Those in critical condition were transferred to the USCGC BOUTWELL and taken to Sitka, Alaska for treatment. CGC MELLON arrived around 1830 that night and dispatched a team to provide medical assistance onboard the WILLIAMSBURGH. At around 2100, 20 passengers and 2 Air Force aviator technicians were still reported missing in one of the PRINSENDAM’s lifeboats. The Coast Guard Command in Juneau directed the USCGC BOUTWELL and an HC-130 Hercules to search for the missing lifeboat. At around 0100 the next morning, some 18 hours after the ordeal had begun, the BOUTWELL spotted a flare from the lifeboat. Shortly thereafter, the lifeboat’s passengers were recovered and the rescue was over with no deaths or serious injuries and all passengers and crew from the PRINSENDAM accounted for.

Also, in 1980, CGC MELLON was featured in a Hollywood motion picture, "The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark," which starred Genevieve Bujold.

CGC MELLON moved to her new homeport of Seattle in 1981. On her first Alaskan patrol from Seattle, she participated in the rescue of four survivors from the crash of a military C-130 on Attu Island in 1982.

CGC MELLON, and each of her WHEC sister ships, were reconfigured in the 1980s. This effort, called the "Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization," or "FRAM" for short, was intended to prolong the useful life of these cutters. During this refit, CGC MELLON was equipped with the latest command and control technologies. Her main battery was upgraded from the 5-inch 38 to the later Mk 75, 76mm gun system. The gunnery direction system was replaced with the Mk92 Fire Control System. She was also fitted with a Phalanx Close in Weapon System, or "CIWS." The CIWS, pronounced "see-whizz," is a 6 barreled "gatling gun" system which fires 20mm projectiles at incoming high speed air and surface threats. It is designed to be a last line of defense against incoming, surface skimming anti-ship missiles, such as the Exocet. CGC MELLON’s "balloon shelter" was replaced with a telescoping helicopter hangar. This hangar can be extended to house one helicopter and protect it from rough seas and harsh weather. These improvements vastly improved CGC MELLON’s capabilities.

CGC MELLON received the CG Unit Commendation Medal from 6 February 1989 to 27 February 1990, for her successful execution of several military readiness missions. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these efforts was her successful test firing of a Harpoon anti-ship missile. CGC MELLON was the only Coast Guard cutter to fire a HARPOON missile. Budget constraints and evolving Coast Guard missions later resulted in the removal of the HARPOON launching system. CGC MELLON retains the distinction of being the only Coast Guard cutter to launch a HARPOON anti-ship missile.

In 1991, CGC MELLON made a diplomatic visit to Vladivostok, Russia, to join in the celebration of their Maritime Border Guard’s 73rd Anniversary. In 1992, CGC MELLON represented the Coast Guard at the kickoff of the city of Portland, Oregon’s, "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign. She has frequently been invited back to represent the Coast Guard. In 1992, CGC MELLON received the Coast Guard Foundation Admiral John B. Hayes award. This recognition is presented to the Coast Guard Pacific Area unit which by its overall achievements, demonstrated commitments to excellence and professionalism embodied in the traditions and lore of the Coast Guard.

In the international arena, CGC MELLON conducted professional exchanges with the maritime services of Costa Rica and Panama in 1993. This included training in international law, defensive tactics, counter narcotic trafficking methods, boarding procedures, and medical training. In the spring 1994, CGC MELLON engaged in two hot pursuit chases of Russian fishing vessels suspected of fishing in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

In October 1999, CGC MELLON’s achievements in gunnery operations earned the unit the Commandant’s Gunnery Award. In presenting the award to the cutter’s crew, the Coast Guard Pacific Area Chief of Operations cited the unit’s successful Weapons Systems Review, outstanding Tailored Ship’s Training Availability and consistent readiness record as key accomplishments. This award is presented annually to two cutters, one cutter from each Area command. The Gunnery award was first presented to the CGC SNOHOMISH in 1927 and last presented to the CGC CAMPBELL in 1940.

CGC MELLON currently divides her patrol time between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean adjacent to Mexico and Guatemala. In the Bering Sea, CGC MELLON is typically involved in the enforcement of laws and regulations related to the preservation of U.S. fisheries stocks. From time to time, she patrols the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia. These efforts have her in constant contact with Russian, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese vessels fishing for Pollock. From time to time, these vessels cross the line in pursuit of their catch – when this happens, CGC MELLON is there, supported by Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and her embarked helicopter to take enforcement action. Further south, along the Alaskan peninsula, CGC MELLON enforces regulations promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect domestic fish stocks. CGC MELLON is always prepared to render assistance to mariners as they pursue this most hazardous occupation. CGC MELLON is often called upon to assist a disabled vessel or to transport an injured crewmember ashore via helicopter.

Much further to the south, CGC MELLON plays a key part in a national strategy known as "STEEL WEB," an effort to deny narcotics smugglers access to the United States via maritime routes. During these counter narcotics-focused missions, CGC MELLON may be also called upon to enforce U.S. immigration laws against vessels attempting to smuggle large groups of people into the United States illegally. As always, CGC MELLON stands ready to assist mariners in distress. During a 1998 patrol, CGC MELLON steamed several hundred miles at high speed to assist an injured sailor. CGC MELLON embarked a para-rescue team from the U.S. Air Force. CGC MELLON closed the distance and launched her embarked helicopter which carried the "PJs" as they are called to the sailing vessel. There, the PJs were dropped into the water and swam to the boat, climbed aboard and initiated medical treatment. The patient was hoisted into the helicopter and transported to CGC MELLON for further medical attention while the helicopter was being refueled for the trip ashore. During this time, CGC MELLON steamed at high speed to close the distance to shore. On the following day, the helicopter was again launched, this time to carry the injured sailor to treatment ashore.