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Former Coast Guard cutter sold at auction for $80K

In this file photo before she was decommissioned, the Coast Guard cutter Bramble moves upstream on the Saginaw River, tending buoys near the Zilwaukee Bridge. (
December 09, 2019

A retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter that was seized by U.S. marshals over unpaid bills earlier this year was auctioned off for $80,000 last week in Alabama to a firm that bills itself as a scrap recycling leader.

This doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the Bramble, a vintage cutter who spent years breaking ice and cruising the Great Lakes. Before that, her Coast Guard crew was present for the first test of an atomic bomb’s effect on ships at Bikini Island in 1947, and was later part of the famous 1957 Northwest Passage trip.

The winning bidder, Modern American Recycling Services, told the Port Huron Times Herald in an interview that they hope to be able to use the Bramble as part of its fleet, but that ultimately the Bramble’s fate will rest on economic factors.

“I would very much like to preserve the boat for the history of it,” Phillip Mason, vice president of operations for the Modern American Recycling Services’ Waggaman and Mobile facilities, told the Times Herald.

The company’s ships currently work in the Gulf of Mexico recycling oil platforms, he told the news site.

Port Huron was the Bramble’s home for years after the cutter was decommissioned from military service in 2003 and became a floating museum.

Last last year, the Bramble was purchased and readied for a trip south, where an entrepreneur planned to renovate the cutter and then use it to retrace its famed Northwest Passage trip.

But earlier this year, a federal lawsuit spelled out nearly $180,000 in unpaid bills, according to court documents reported by Those indicated the owner did not pay for the extensive restoration. In August, U.S. Marshals seized the ship under asset forfeiture laws.

The case was handled in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

During its headline-making 1957 trip, the Bramble was one of three U.S. Coast Guard vessels – along with its sister ship, the Spar, and the Storis, to motor along semi-charted waters on the northern shore of Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. To toughen up for that voyage through Arctic ice, the Bramble was outfitted with a stronger bow and a stainless steel propeller, reports show. The 4,500 nautical-mile journey took the three cutters 64 days, and made them the first American ships to circumnavigate North America.

The cutter was built by Zenith Dredge Company in Duluth and launched in 1943. She left her Great Lakes home in 1945, becoming a workhorse in California and Alaska. She had her first brush with history in Hawaii in 1947, when she was present for the first test of an atomic bomb’s effect on ships at Bikini Island, records show.

After her famed Northwest Passage journey, the Bramble soon returned to the Great Lakes, where she spent the next three decades on law enforcement, search and rescue and buoy-tending work. She was home-ported in both Detroit and Port Huron during those years.

The Bramble then did some work in the Caribbean before coming back to the Great Lakes for her final years in the fleet. She was decommissioned in 2003, replaced by the current U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Hollyhock.


© 2019