MANAMA, Bahrain — The U.S. Navy 5th Fleet’s presence in the Persian Gulf grew stronger Wednesday with the addition of three Coastal Patrol ships and a total of 80 sailors to its ranks. Over half of the entire Coastal Patrol fleet is now permanently stationed in Bahrain — 8 of 13 ships — with two more expected to arrive next spring.

The USS Squall, the USS Thunderbolt and the USS Tempest were carefully offloaded from a transport ship and tugged to their new homeport early Wednesday morning after a 37-day transit from Norfolk, Va.

Carrying 25-sailor crews, the 79-foot Coastal Patrol ships can be armed with 25 mm cannons, grenade launchers, and .50-caliber machine guns.

U.S. Navy officials say the arrival of the ships and the implementation this week of new U.S. sanctions on Iran is merely coincidental. Despite the move occurring amid a dispute between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, the addition of the Coastal Patrol ships to the 5th fleet is no way a response to tensions with Iran, according to Navy officials.

Lt. Marissa Myatt, U.S. Navy 5th fleet spokesperson, says their mission in the Persian Gulf is to protect infrastructure, help maintain the free flow of commerce, and help foster relationships with U.S. partners in the region.

In May, the Navy decided to move the coastal patrol ships permanently to Bahrain to eliminate the need for “crew swaps” — a process in which crews would man the coastal patrol ships in Bahrain on a six-month unaccompanied rotational basis. Navy officials say the new arrangement of having the crews permanently stationed in Bahrain has many benefits.

“I absolutely love it. That sense of ownership of knowing that ship — Thunderbolt — is entirely ours, is huge,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Holt, commanding officer of the USS Thunderbolt, in an interview on the pier immediately after the ship’s arrival.

An added perk for sailors, is the ability to bring their families with them to Bahrain on a two year assignment. But as of yet, not many crewmembers have done so. Twitter: @hendricksimoes

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