Coast Guard cutter Diligence to leave Wilmington this month
By HUNTER INGRAM | Star-News | Published: May 12, 2020
WILMINGTON, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Diligence will be making its exit from the Port City much quicker than originally expected.
The Diligence, which has been moored at the foot of Princess Street for more than 25 years, will leave downtown Wilmington by the end of May, a spokesman for the USCG confirmed Tuesday.
A specific date would be provided to the public in the coming days, the spokesman said.
This is the first major update from the USCG regarding the exit plan for the Diligence, which it announced in January 2019 would leave Wilmington for its new homeport in Pensacola, Fla., by September 30, 2020.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo also confirmed the news Tuesday but said he was not given a specific leave date or a reason for why the cutter is sailing out sooner than expected.
"I have not been told why by anyone in the command staff, but I am anticipating that they are going out on their usual patrol missions," Saffo said. "Since they will be out, they will probably then head to their new homeport. It's just a little faster than we thought."
The Diligence was first commissioned on Aug. 26, 1964, but underwent a $28 million refurbishment in the mid-1990s before being stationed in Wilmington. It spent the majority of its life in Florida, docked in Key West and Cape Canaveral.
The Diligence's exit will bring a swift end to the Coast Guard's longstanding history in downtown Wilmington. In 1792, the agency's first cutter, the Diligence I, was stationed on Wilmington's riverfront. The current Diligence is the fifth in that lineage.
"The Coast Guard is a huge part of our history and it is unfortunate to see that history coming to an end in Wilmington," Saffo said. "We're losing a cutter we've all grown up with and to not see them in downtown anymore will be sad."
The Diligence's presence in Wilmington played a major role in securing the city its designation as the first "Coast Guard City" on the East Coast in 2003.
Earlier this year, the USCG revealed the driving force behind the move is the shift to its new 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutter, which cannot be maintained by the existing facilities in Wilmington.
The vacancy left by the Diligence will open up an opportunity for the city, which is working with the Coast Guard and local Rep. David Rouzer to secure the dock as part of the expanded Riverfront Park project.
Currently, the Coast Guard is doing several million dollars worth of repairs to the bulkhead underneath the Diligence landing and Riverfront Park, a commitment it made to the city before it leaves the property.
After the Diligence leaves, the Coast Guard will still have a presence in the region with its stations in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach and Oak Island.