2007-03-22 / News

Commander Kelly protects island onboard the Seneca

By Sam Bari

CDR Bill Kelly CDR Bill Kelly When anybody asks Coast Guard Commander Bill Kelly if he had a good day, his answer could sound like an action adventure script that would make Hollywood producers drool.

Kelly is the commanding officer of the Coast Guard cutter Seneca. Based in Boston, a small part of the Seneca's job is patrolling the waters of Narragansett Bay that includes Jamestown and neighboring islands.

When asked to give a few reasons why Jamestown residents should rest easier. with the Seneca and its crew guarding our coastal areas, Kelly said, "I think the biggest reason is that over the last two months, the Seneca and other Coast Guard units have played an integral role in protecting life at sea. We have towed two disabled fishing vessels over 100 miles from the fishing grounds back to safety. We have also been involved as the on scene commander for the search for the fishing vessel, Lady of Grace, which sank with four men on board, and the fishing vessel, Lucky Lady, which sank with two men on board."

Kelly said that in addition to search and rescue, they have played a key role in ensuring that fisherman are following the regulations the government has instituted for fishing in the New England region, as well as ensuring that fisherman are adhering to proper safety procedures while at sea. Ensuring the safety of the Narragansett Bay region by boarding foreign-flagged vessels prior to their entry into the Bay and ensuring that vessels are safety-cleared for safe passage to Providence and points north, are also among their duties, Kelly said.

Kelly's crew of 100 includes 87 men and 13 women. They uphold the Coast Guard slogan "A Tradition of Honor, A Legacy of Action" on a daily basis.

According to Kelly, Seneca and the other 270-foot cutters in the fleet, 13 of them, are tasked with carrying out Coast Guard missions throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida Straights and anywhere else that the nation may need them. Kelly has personally deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea on a 270-foot cutter.

He said that the Coast Guard has increased the capabilities of the vessels over the past five years to more effectively fight the war on drugs, and new tactics have definitely impacted the drug runners.

The Coast Guard now has armed helicopters, called HITRON, which can deploy from the Seneca and work in tandem with their small boats to fight the war on drugs. During their last southern patrol, the Seneca was responsible for interdicting approximately 1.7 metric tons of cocaine with a street value of over $30 million.

"It's an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding mission that is too often out of the public eye because of where it takes place," Kelly said. He mentioned that during the time he has been in the Coast Guard he has learned how important their work is when he has had the

opportunity to meet and talk to the folks they have helped.

The Seneca was commissioned in 1986. The ship is 270-feet long with a 38-foot beam. It is one of the famous cutter class of boats that have been used by the Coast Guard since the days of the Revenue Cutter Service which was the initial name of the Coast Guard. The Revenue Cutter Service combined with the Lifesaving Service to form the modern Coast Guard.

The Seneca is armed with a 76mm gun, other assorted small arms and her two small inflatable boats are 23- and 19-feet in length. They are used to carry law enforcement teams back and forth between the Seneca and the vessels they are boarding, Kelly said.

"We have protected the country by enforcing all applicable laws on U.S. fishing vessels, ensured that foreign-flagged vessels are cleared for safe passage into Narragansett Bay, and saved seven fishermen on two separate fishing vessels whose boats were disabled and adrift off shore," he said.

He went on to say that, "what's neat is we do that in January and February and soon we will deploy down south to fight the war on drugs and interdict illegal immigrants from entering our shores." He also said that the men and women of the CG are incredibly flexible and their ship is extremely capable of carrying out any mission the Coast Guard and nation need for them to conduct.

CDR Kelly will celebrate 20 years in the Coast Guard in May. He has been married for 18 years and has two children. Kelly took command of the Seneca on August 8, 2006 and will be in command until the summer of 2008. Commanding Officer positions are generally for two years, Kelly said.

CDR Kelly was born and raised in New York and is a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy. His proud father, Jamestown resident Bill Kelly, is a member of the Town Council.

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