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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

US Derelict Destroyer SENECA

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on April 19, 2013

A unique vessel that established an illustrious tradition

The United States Revenue Cutter SENECA was the first and only US Government seagoing vessel built expressly as a derelict destroyer.  Launched in 1908, the 1,259 ton vessel was commissioned into the Revenue Cutter Service for the principal mission of locating distressed vessels, rendering assistance, saving the persons on board, and either towing the vessel to port or sinking it if it could not be salved.  At the time, many seagoing vessels were still constructed with wooden hulls and many floated after being abandoned.  These floating derelicts presented a hazard to navigation and the US Government took on the task of eliminating as many as possible.  In addition to having additional berths for persons that might be rescued, SENECA carried fire-fighting equipment, munitions for blowing up wrecks, and four 6-pounder guns for sinking wrecks that could not be safely boarded.  From its homeport in Tompkinsville, Staten Island, it patrolled the Atlantic coast of the United States from Maine to South Carolina.  Under the title “Uncle Sam’s Derelict Destroyer”, the cutter was featured in the April 1909 edition of Popular Mechanics.  On 29 March 1913, SENECA and the USRC Miami were assigned to the International Ice Patrol, which had been established by international agreement following the sinking of the RMS Titanic when it hit an iceberg.  In 1914, SENECA as assigned to enforce United States neutrality following the outbreak of the Great War in Europe.  In January 1915, it and other Revenue cutters were transferred to the newly-established US Coast Guard.  It continued its duties on the International Ice Patrol until the United States entered the war.  At that point, its weaponry was upgraded and SENECA, along with five other cutters, was assigned to perform convoy duties.  For the remainder of the war, it escorted convoys between the Mediterranean and Great Britain/France.  In all, SENECA escorted 30 convoys of about 580 vessels, losing only four vessels to enemy submarines.  It’s most dramatic experience was in August 1918.  The freighter Wellington was hit by a torpedo.  SENECA chased off the attacking submarine and a boarding party headed by First Lieutenant F.W. Brown was sent to assist the freighter.  A skeleton crew and the boarding party attempted to bring the freighter into the harbor at Brest, France.  Heavy weather, combined with the torpedo damage, led to the sinking of the Wellington off the French coast.  Twelve of the Wellington crew of 17 and eight of the 19 members of the SENECA boarding party survived.  The entire boarding party was awarded Navy citations for their heroic actions.  The USCGC SENECA (WMEC 906), homeported in Boston, carries on this illustrious tradition.

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