If you’re measuring in terms of the amount of water the U.S. Coast Guard has to protect and patrol, the service’s 14th District – with sector commands in Honolulu and Guam; small boat stations at Honolulu, Kauai, Maui, and Apra Harbor; and one air station, Barber’s Point, from which HC-130 Hercules aircraft and MH-65 Dolphin helicopters conduct patrol and search and rescue missions – is by far the largest.
A map of the district’s U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or waters that project 200 miles outward from the nation’s 90,000 miles of coastline, shows eight large ring-shaped areas in the Pacific Ocean south and west of Hawaii, representing remote U.S. island commonwealths and territories. Of the total 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. EEZ, 43 percent resides within this region.
Because so many Pacific nations have the same challenges, District 14 has become adept with international engagement and diplomacy; among U.S. partners in the region, the Coast Guard is one of many of the nation’s eyes and ears.
Coast Guard Activities Far East (FEACT)
One way in which the Coast Guard engages with other Pacific nations is through Activities Far East, a forward-deployed operational command collocated with the headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan at Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo. FEACT carries out its designated missions across a 41-nation region from Russia to New Zealand and from Madagascar to French Polynesia – a region containing the world’s largest ports and some of its most strategically important shipping routes.
Among the most significant FEACT missions is execution of the Coast Guard’s International Port Security program – the evaluation of trading partners’ maritime governance, port facilities, and personnel to ensure safety against terrorist threats. The program is conducted by a small cadre of international port security liaison officers (IPSLOs), deployed from FEACT’s offices in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Though an antiterrorism measure, the work of the IPSLOs in Pacific port facilities also has the potential to deter activities such as drug or contraband smuggling, human trafficking, or other transnational crimes.
As Cmdr. Scott Kim, the district’s chief of Inspections and Investigations Branch, explains, IPSLOs have unique skills among Coast Guard members – their interface with foreign government agencies and port facilities is arranged and conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, through the relevant U.S. embassy. Each IPSLO is responsible for assessing the security of port facilities in not one, but several nations in the region, requiring a diverse set of cross-cultural communication skills. The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, which came into force in 2004, is the internationally accepted standard – which makes it the primary benchmark against which the Coast Guard measures effective security measures in foreign ports. The IPSLO reviews how the facility conducts risk management between potential threats and vulnerability of ships and port infrastructure. If a country is found to lack effective security measures, the IPSLO will guide and assist the country in improvement efforts and monitor their progress. In all cases, an IPSLO will promote best practices in areas such as monitoring and controlling access, security plans and equipment, and personnel.
“We have people from all different occupational specialties [serving as IPSLOs],” said Kim. “But these are proficient maritime professionals with good diplomatic skills who can work independently and represent the Coast Guard and the United States well.”
Partners in the Pacific
The 14th District plays an important role in several regional enforcement agencies, including the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). With 17 member countries, the FFA helps countries manage, control, and develop their tuna fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile EEZ. The WCPFC is comprised of approximately 40 nations that regulate the fishery in the high seas regions. Within these partnerships, District 14 works closely to promote the conservation and sustainable use of migratory fish stocks.
The Coast Guard also participates in the Quadrilateral Defense Cooperation Talks, or “Quads,” a collaboration between France, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand to ensure a “prosperous, secure, and stable Pacific.” The Quads focus on maritime safety and security issues such as fisheries enforcement and deterrence of transnational crime.
In addition to participation in these agencies and the Quads, the Coast Guard executes bilateral agreements with six Pacific Island countries: Tonga, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Cook Islands, and Kiribati. The seventh and eighth bilateral agreements were recently negotiated and executed with the Republic of Nauru and the government of Tuvalu. This body of agreements, commonly known as “Shiprider” agreements, allows the service to engage in bilateral or joint maritime surveillance operations in which a visiting law enforcement officer rides aboard a Coast Guard vessel or aircraft and, essentially, uses those assets as a platform for enforcing their own nation’s EEZ.
Capt. Eric Brown, chief of Response Division for District 14, said this body of international agreements and partnerships allows the Coast Guard to move freely about the Pacific – from U.S. EEZ, high seas, and partner nation EEZs. “It’s a great expanse of ocean,” he said. “So where the Coast Guard might have done fewer than 10 boardings in a patrol in the past, they’re now doing 40 to 50 boardings. These agreements really have made our patrols much more effective.”
In the past year, these surveillance operations yielded results that far exceeded those of traditional USCG patrols in the Pacific. In a 70-day voyage that lasted from Oct. 12 to Dec. 20, 2010, the CGC Rush executed bilateral patrols with Kiribati, RMI, and the Cook Islands; hosted an Australian Shiprider in a professional exchange; patrolled eight distinct U.S. EEZ areas; and, with participants from the 17-nation FFA, conducted Operation Kurukuru, a fisheries enforcement patrol in the Solomon Islands. The Rush also conveyed vessel-sighting information to other nations as the cutter transited through their EEZs, and conducted high seas patrols under the auspices of the WCPFC. For part of the Rush’s 14,000-mile voyage, it was aided by a Coast Guard Hercules aircraft – and it carried a Dolphin helicopter for its entire patrol.
The CGC Jarvis followed with a 71-day patrol of Oceania from March 11 to May 21, 2011, during which it executed five Shiprider agreements. The Jarvis traveled through the Oceania, transitioning from one strategic patrol segment to another – U.S. EEZ, bilateral partner EEZs, the high seas U.S. tuna fleet, and high seas areas in the WCPFC enforcement area. This highly effective patrol, similarly yielded 40 total boardings of U.S. and foreign fishing vessels.
Operation Big Eye, an FFA operation that used the combined resources of the Quad partners and the FFA’s Pacific Island nations members, was conducted Aug. 1-15, 2011; the Coast Guard contributed 30 hours of surveillance with a Hercules aircraft, in which a Kiribati law enforcement official was a passenger – the Coast Guard’s first “planerider” in the Pacific and a fisheries liaison officer in the FFA’s headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
On the heels of Operation Big Eye, the Quad partners led a conference of Pacific Island countries in Honiara – the first time the Quad partners together had interacted in a significant way with these nations beyond a specific operation. “We all actually talked broadly and very enthusiastically about how we can work together to improve our regional relationships,” said Brown.
When Pacific Island countries, consider their own national security, they often focus on their marine resources such as some of the worlds last remaining healthy tuna stocks. Coast Guard operations, such as the Shiprider engagements, are a significant demonstration of U.S. commitment to the region.
“We will continue to conduct operations aimed at supporting the region’s economic viability and environmental sustainability,” concluded Kim. “At the same time, we will ensure our homeland security and economic interests through programs such as the international port security program. But the key to our success is maintaining agreements and relationships as this is the best way we can go about protecting U.S. interests.”
This article first appeared in the Coast Guard Outlook 2012 Edition.