With a crowd of more than 3,000 present, Panama City, Fla.-based Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) and the U.S. Coast Guard christened and launched the cutter Argus, the first Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), on October 27. Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard, delivered the keynote address, while retired Capt. Beverly Kelley served as ship sponsor. Fagan is the first woman to serve as commandant of the Coast Guard, while Kelley was the first woman to command a U.S. military vessel.
Addressing the crowd gathered for the event, ESG CEO Joey D’Isernia called the launch of the Argus “a significant moment in the maritime history of our great nation.” He also described it as an important accomplishment for the Panama City community.
D’Isernia praised his team and the surrounding community for their strength and resolve, particularly in the face of recent storms, like Category 5 Hurricane Michael that hit the area in 2018.
“This vessel is a testament to the grit and determination that defines our community,” he said. “It is a symbol of resilience, a symbol of community and a symbol of faith.”
Rear Adm. Chad Jacoby, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for acquisition, said it was a thrill to see the Argus in person and not just on paper.
“After a long time of looking at blueprints, technical drawings, artist renditions, it’s especially gratifying to be able to lay eyes on the actual ship and appreciate the tremendous progress achieved toward completion,” Jacoby said. “It’s also humbling to consider all the hard work done by so many to reach this point.”
The Argus is the first of four offshore patrol cutters the Coast Guard has on order from Eastern Shipbuilding Group. The Coast Guard plans to build a total of 25 offshore patrol cutters at an estimated cost of $17.6 billion, according to an October 19, 2023, report from the Congressional Research Service. Hurricane Michael caused a delay to the program from Eastern and led the Coast Guard to bid out the next 11 OPCs. That contract was awarded to Mobile, Ala.-based Austal USA on June 30, 2022.
The Argus measures 360 feet long with a 54-foot beam and a 17-foot draft. The vessel will have accommodations for 126 and will have the ability to deploy for 60 days without resupply. OPCs will tackle a wide range of missions, including law enforcement, drug and migrant interdiction, search and rescue, disaster relief and other homeland security and defense assignments. The OPCs will have the capability to carry one Coast Guard helicopter and up to three small vessels.
“This new cutter is a game changer for the Coast Guard and the nation,” Fagan said. “The United States is a maritime nation, and our national security and economic prosperity have always been linked and tied to the sea. Demand for Coast Guard missions and the cutters that execute them has never been higher, and that demand is global, and this ship will contribute to helping ensure maritime governance and sovereignty across the world.”
After Kelley broke a bottle of champagne over the Argus’ bulbous bow, a team of cranes carefully tipped the Argus to port until it slid into the water beside ESG’s Nelson yard. The Coast Guard expects to put the Argus into service during the third quarter next year. The 25 forthcoming OPCs will replace the Coast Guard’s 29 210-foot and 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutters, many of which are more than 50 years old.