As one of the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) most expansive commands, Sector St. Petersburg has served the region, state and nation from its base on Bayboro Harbor for nearly 100 years.
Coinciding with the USCG’s recent 232nd anniversary Mayor Ken Welch, on behalf of the city, issued a formal proclamation recognizing Aug. 4, 2022, as United States Coast Guard Day in St. Petersburg. Commissioned in 1924, he also acknowledged the Sector’s servicemembers and their families for decades of dedication and sacrifice.
In honor of the occasion, LTJG Whip Blacklaw explained the station’s extensive functions, its local and national impact and what the recognition means to the 825 active and reserve duty military members, 27 civilian civilians and 1,800 auxiliary personnel that call the Sector home.
“After seeing the support from the mayor and other city officials during the city council meeting, I have no doubt the Sector will be here for a hundred more years to come,” said Blacklaw to the Catalyst. “Many Coastguardsmen keep coming back to St. Petersburg because of how much support the community gives them.”
The recognition on the USCG’s birthday “means the world” to the men and women stationed in the city, said Blacklaw, who are also proud community members. He added that they stand “always ready” to serve the people of Tampa Bay.
As one of the nation’s largest command centers, Sector St. Petersburg is responsible for an area encompassing over 400 nautical miles along Florida’s Gulf Coast, including the Port of Tampa, the nation’s third-largest for domestic trade. Blacklaw, who serves in the Incident Management Division, said the station’s core functions include search and rescue, marine safety, environmental protection and port, waterway and coastal security (PWCS).
In July, Captain Michael Kahle relieved Captain Matthew Thompson as the Commander of Sector St. Petersburg, which works in conjunction with Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater, during a change of command ceremony at the Port of Tampa. Blacklaw called the ceremony a time-honored tradition representing a complete transfer of responsibility, authority and accountability.
“We protect the safety and security of our people, the marine transportation system and infrastructure, the natural and economic resources of the region and the territorial integrity of our nation,” he said. “We protect all these from both internal and external threats – natural and manmade.”
On average, relayed Blacklaw, personnel from Sector St. Petersburg annually respond to 300 “pollution events,” conduct 1,000 inspections of foreign and domestic ships and monitor the transit of 8,500 commercial vessels entering and leaving Tampa Bay. They also provide around 1,500 navigation aids and investigate 150 casualties each year.
Service members perform an average of 800 PWCS missions to deter, detect and prevent malicious actions around area ports and waterways, said Blacklaw.
As a region renowned for its boating, fishing and swimming, the St. Petersburg station also oversees more than 2,600 rescues annually, assisting over 7,000 people and preserving property valued at $39 million. Blacklaw explained Coast Guard personnel utilize the Sector’s five multi-mission small boat stations, four patrol cutters and two “aids to navigation” cutters.
“Warding off the loss of life, personal injury and property damage by helping boaters in distress has always been a top Coast Guard priority,” said Blacklaw. “Our personnel go through extensive training and use lead edge cutters, aircraft and boats linked by advanced communications networks.”
The station is also a key cog in the city’s Innovation District. The district occupies a corner of the city’s downtown waterfront and includes the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and several private companies that partner with the USCG and operate out the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub.
While the Coast Guard has operated out of the area since 1924, Blackwell said the influx of federal, state and local partners helps the station support the surrounding community and achieve goals that extend far beyond St. Petersburg’s borders.
“This leads to robust collaboration between our partners,” he said. “We have worked on several programs in conjunction with each other and will continue to build our relationships.”