U.S. Coast Guard photos and graphic by Lt. j.g. Bethany Gollin
Exactly 19 years to the day after its commissioning, Coast Guard Cutter Kukui (WLB 203) set sail for the last time from Sand Island in Honolulu. The 46 member crew are sailing the cutter to the Coast Guard Yards in Baltimore for its regular scheduled midlife maintenance. When Kukui leaves the yards, it will have a new crew and will be voyaging to a new homeport in Sitka, Alaska. As the cutter and crew depart, they leave with a new mission, a mission of aloha. They strive to bring the strong friendship and traditions of Hawaii to the East Coast and beyond to each crewmember’s future unit throughout the Coast Guard.
“The Kukui has a long history in Hawaii and the surrounding South Pacific. Because of that, it is especially sad to see it go,” said Lt. j.g. Bethany Gollin, Kukui operations department. “This juniper class, 225-foot cutter is the third vessel to bare the Kukui name in the Hawaiian Islands.”
The first cutter Kukui was built by the New York Shipping Company in 1908. The vessel’s first of many adventures was the long journey around Cape Horn, before the Panama Canal was built, to its homeport of Honolulu. The cutter served in the Hawaiian Islands until 1946. During those 38 years, the vessel’s crew primarily performed aids to navigation duties in the Pacific. In 1941, when the U.S. was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the 190-foot buoy tender’s crew was conducting standard in-port weekend duties, unarmed and moored to Pier Four in Honolulu Harbor. Following the attack, the Kukui took part in the Battle of Niihau by transporting an Army combat squad to remote Niihau Island in response to reports that a Japanese fighter pilot crashed onto the island and took the few inhabitants hostage. It was later discovered that they locals had already dealt with the threat.
In 1946, a new 339-foot cargo ship was name Kukui and came to Hawaii where it served until 1972. Its crew constructed Long Range Navigation Stations, also known as LORAN, and provided support to Pacific Islanders in remote locations such as the delivery of food, medicine and building materials. A truly unique vessel, the second Kukui was decommissioned in 1972 and sold to the Philippine navy. It was renamed Mactan and homeported in Subic Bay.
Commissioned on Jan. 9, 1998, the current Kukui continued the heritage started so many years ago by its predecessors. It is one of a fleet of optimally manned, modern and extremely capable sea going buoy tenders serving around the nation. Over the past two decades, Kukui’s crews have been a servicer of aids to navigation from the Hawaiian Islands to Midway and American Samoa. They have provided support to developing island nations by conducting bilateral fisheries law enforcement and continued the humanitarian mission of its predecessors to bring aid to our remote neighbors.
With the Kukui going to its midlife maintenance, the district will temporarily be reduced to two buoy tenders, an aids to navigation team and the regional dive locker to maintain aids throughout the region. Careful planning and prioritization of ATON projects will be employed during the gap in cutter coverage to minimize the impact of the asset’s absence.
“The Kukui’slong histories in Hawaii and namesake add to the significance of the cutter’s departure after over a century of presence and service in the Pacific,” said Gollin.
“It is named after the kukui tree, which is not only the Hawaii state tree, but also a symbol of Hawaii that has deep roots in the traditions of the islands.”