Four bells rang as the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Point Estero removed the American flag from her stern for the last time.
"Today is not a solemn day," Cmdr. Chuck Winter said. "It's a day of celebration and a day of reminiscing."
One of the people reminiscing at the decommissioning ceremony was the Point Estero's first commander Allen Grey. Grey came back to Gulfport specifically for this event. He said, "It brings back many memories. I know we saved many lives."
The 82-foot Coast Guard cutter spent 37 years patrolling coastal waters. "She's been good to Gulfport," Grey said, "and I'm sure Gulfport has been good to her."
The Point Estero often provided search and rescue assistance. And in recent years, its crew stopped drug smugglers.
Now America is retiring the ship. During the decommissioning, the original commander got a plaque. As Grey held it, he said, "I have the plaque when I commisioned it. And I never thought 37 years later I would be back in Gulfport and receive the retired plaque."
According to Coast Guard Cmdr. Rusty Terrell, "Placing the Point Estero out of service today signifies another major step in the modernization of today's Coast Guard."
The decommissioning marked the end of Point Estero's service to the United States, but not the end of the ship. Renamed Cabo Tiburon, it will now be used by the Colombian navy to protect South American waters.
Nine Colombian sailors attended the ceremony. They proudly sang their national anthem as the U.S. Coast Guard signed over control of the cutter to its Colombian counterparts. Shortly before he gave up command of the Point Estero, Commander Winter looked at the Colombians and said, "As you take her on her second mission, I have no doubt she will serve your country as gallantly as she served mine."
The Colombians said they'll treat their new drug interdiction vessel with the same care Gulfport's Coast Guard did for 37 years.
In two months, Point Estero's replacement ship should arrive in Gulfport. The Razorbill is currently being built in Louisiana.