JUNIPER crew shares Innovation Award

Coast Guard Innovation Expo awards

TAMPA, Fla. - U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Bob Papp Jr., and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt present the Coast Guard Innovation in Science or Technology to crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutters Juniper and Elm at the 2011 Coast Guard Innovation Expo in Tampa Oct. 27, 2011. The cutter's crewmembers recived the award for developing and implementing a new procedure for dockside internal sea water systems cleaning after being deployed to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson.

written by Petty Officer Rob Simpson

U.S. Coast Guard cutter crews deployed to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response spent months making way through miles of oil floating on top of the Gulf of Mexico. All the oil they were skimming, transiting through and monitoring was also on the surface of the very water these ships use to cool their engines, run machinery and even create drinking water for the crew. The oil collected in pipes and clung to all of its vital systems, creating havoc for the crews to maintain and clean the equipment. After spending months at the response, all ships were required to be decontaminated during a lengthy dry-dock period, often taking up to six months for each vessel.

One such vessel to deploy to the response was the crew of the 225-foot seagoing buoy tender Coast Guard Cutter Juniper, who spent two months skimming oily water from the Gulf of Mexico. When the crew’s time was up for release to return to their homeport of Newport, R.I., they started the arduous process of decontamination; a blessing in disguise. Teams from Juniper and the Coast Guard Cutter Elm designed and implemented a new plan and process of cleaning the Juniper to shorten the amount of time they spent in decontamination, and saving money.

“There was a time in Mobile when we just weren’t doing anything productive,” said Cmdr. Jeff Swanson, Juniper’s commanding officer, speaking of waiting for the lengthy decontamination process to begin in Alabama. “We knew we had to create a new process because this one just wasn’t working for us; we needed to get back to our homeport and get back to our mission.”

Their plan was simple. Instead of the traditional method of lifting a ship out of the water and into drydock, pulling apart all of the machinery’s pipes and literally scrubbing the oily waste from the pipes themselves, they designed a closed-loop system using a cleaner to flush out the oil from the ship to a container on the pier, where it could be safely disposed of.

“We sealed off the intake and discharge from the water to bring in a commercial-grade degreaser and basically flush the system out,” said Ens. Cody Isaacson, a deck watch officer aboard Juniper. “We condensed a month-long process into six days.”

The degreaser and oily waste was then ejected into a three-part separation tank, and the tank’s contents were disposed of properly. After the Juniper passed inspections and no longer had oil in its systems, the crew was cleared to move to the next stage of decontamination, where the surfaces of the ship were scrubbed, and often times the paint was removed and a fresh coat was applied to the clean steel.

The entire process saved nearly $380,000 for each ship to use this system. For their contribution, Juniper and Elm crewmembers received the 2011 Coast Guard Innovation Award in the science and technology category

“It took us a few weeks to get through the design, testing and implementation phases,” said Isaacson. “We were the last ship to enter the decon phase, but we were the first one out.”

Juniper during the Deepwater Horizon response

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Juniper deploy the Spilled Oil Recovery System (SORS) pump from the buoy deck in to the boom area where oil is collected and contained June 11, 2010. The Juniper, homeported in Newport, R.I., began oil-skimming operations off the Fla. and Ala. coasts Friday. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin White.