Take a virtual tour of Coast Guard Cutter Seneca

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, a 270-foot ship, docked on River Street in downtown Savannah this week.

The crew made a pit stop in the Hostess City, offering free tours to the public on their way home to Boston, Massachusetts after a two-month deployment in the Southern Caribbean Sea.

But if you missed the chance to take a look around, News 3 has a virtual tour here.

The Seneca is a Medium-Endurance Cutter that is based in Boston, Massachusetts. It was commissioned in 1987 and is the sixth of 13 Famous Class cutters in the United States Coast Guard.

Seneca’s primary missions include living marine resources, counter-narcotics, and search and rescue operations from the Gulf of Maine to the Pacific Ocean.

“We were doing a counter-drug mission and our migrant interdiction mission. My favorite spot is the bridge, I just think it’s super cool. It’s where we do our driving and our navigating from. And there’s stuff there to make us make decisions,” U.S. Coast Guard Deck Watch Officer Ens. Annamaria Vaccaro said.

The ship has 100 crew members that typically sail for up to three weeks at a time. It’ll take the crew about four days to get back to Boston.

“Savannah is one of those rare port calls that only comes around a few times throughout a career,” said Cmdr. John Christensen, Seneca’s commanding officer. “I could not be more excited for my crew and I experience this historic city and all that it has to offer.”

Ens. Vaccaro says they had at least 500 people come through the ship for tours in Savannah.

Seneca’s History

Seneca’s keel was laid on September 16, 1982, and was formally commissioned into service on May 9, 1987. The ship is named after the original Seneca, which was commissioned in 1908 and served as one of the first ice patrol cutters, escorted Atlantic convoys during WWI, and enforced prohibition, finishing her commissioned service in 1936.

After a November 6, 1908 commissioning, the first Seneca responded to a distress call on January 23, 1909, from the passenger liner Republic. Seneca was on station in the North Atlantic when Republic reported taking on water at an alarming rate.

The Revenue Cutters Gresham and Seneca aided in the rescue of the survivors of the ill-fated liner. Seneca successfully saved the remaining crew of the sinking ship and returned them to port in New York. From 1908 until 1913 the Cutter Seneca performed routine patrols, including the Harvard- Yale Regatta and the British International Trophy Race at Huntington, Long Island.

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with over 2,200 people aboard. The international cry that arose as a result of the disaster led directly to the establishment of the International Ice Patrol. Seneca became the first cutter to assume ice patrol duties and routinely performed the patrol through 1914.

On January 28, 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service united with the U. S. Lifesaving Service to form the United States Coast Guard. This action affected Seneca’s operations minimally. It was an escalating war in Europe that was to change her service dramatically. In the years prior to 1917 Seneca conducted Neutrality Patrols and was increasingly involved in Search and Rescue.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 2, 1917, increasing the tension and the stakes of “Neutrality” patrols. In April of the same year the U. S. declared war on Germany, and Coast Guard Cutters were transferred to the U. S. Navy.

Seneca, with the cutters TAMPA, OSSIPEE, ALGONQUIN, and MANNING made up Squadron 2 of Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces. Their mission was to protect convoys from submarine attacks. During the war Seneca escorted 19 convoys, comprising a total of 350 vessels through the sub-infested waters between Gibraltar and Great Britain.

The months between March and September 1918 were the most critical in the ship’s life. While on escort duty, Seneca was involved in four dramatic SAR operations.

On March 25, 1918, Seneca rescued 81 members from the torpedoed HMS COWSLIP. Three months later she rescued 27 crewmen from the torpedoed SS QUEEN and assisted the SS PINICHE, which had been disabled by an explosion in her engine room.

While serving in French waters, escorting a large slow convoy to Great Britain, Seneca ‘s crew initiated one of the most heroic and tragic rescue attempts in history on September 19, 1918. A torpedo struck the SS Wellington, a large British cargo vessel, ripping away the forward 30 feet of the ship.

The crew of 36 was rescued by Seneca, but before they had even been taken aboard, LT Fletcher Webster Brown, USCG received permission from his captain to call for volunteers to go upon Wellington and if possible, take the ship the remaining 300 miles to Great Britain. Every man of Seneca’s crew volunteered, but only 18 were chosen.

The 18 Seneca crewmen boarded Wellington and were later joined by 2 of the Wellington’s original crew. Soon, with Coast Guardsmen manning the aft gun, engine room, and bridge, the Wellington was underway toward Great Britain making approximately 5 knots. The ship maintained the speed throughout the evening, and Seneca left her to resume her duties with the convoy. By midnight, however, the weather had deteriorated significantly, and the seas had begun to rise.

Shortly after midnight, they lost the bet; the rising seas burst the forward bulkhead and the Wellington went down with 10 of the heroic volunteers from Seneca aboard. A memorial plaque was erected at Gibraltar in honor of the valiant efforts of the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca. There is also a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

From the end of the war in 1918 until 1936 the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca served with distinction. She performed Ice Patrols, scientific patrols, and other routine law enforcement patrols. On September 3, 1936, the distinguished Cutter Seneca was decommissioned.

In memory of Seneca’s fallen shipmates, a monument was erected at Arlington National Cemetery.

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