The Bush administration's decision to send eight Coast Guard patrol ships to the Persian Gulf [news story, Jan. 30] comes at the expense of our security at home.

The 110-foot Island Class patrol ship is the workhorse of the Coast Guard, yet only 35 were stationed on the East Coast -- including Puerto Rico -- before eight were sent to the Middle East. The Coast Guard has only 49 Island Class ships in its fleet.

At a time when the United States is under threat of terrorist attack and is being inundated by illegal immigrants and illegal drugs, it seems foolhardy to reduce by nearly 25 percent the Coast Guard's capabilities on the East Coast with this class of vessel.

Because the deployment of these assets is likely to be protracted and the lead time for ship construction is significant, we can expect that for at least the rest of 2003 the East Coast will be underserved by the Coast Guard just when we urgently need our coastal waters protected. Calling up additional reserves to "fill the gap," as the Coast Guard is considering, would not provide a substitute, as it is the vessels that are in short supply.

The Coast Guard is now properly part of the new Department of Homeland Security. We need it in our home waters to protect us.

STUART MACKIERNAN

McLean