Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown assumed command of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area (PacArea) command in May 2010. His area of responsibility (AOR) includes more than 74 million square miles, from South America to the Arctic Circle and from the Rockies west to the Far East. For fiscal year 2011 set four goals for his new command:
- Cultivate leader development;
- Improve operational safety;
- Leverage theater-level partnerships; and
- Optimize mission execution.
In achieving these goals, Brown established four key values:
- Be field focused;
- Be responsive;
- Be good stewards; and
- Empower co-workers.
These goals and values formed the foundation underlying Coast Guard operations in the Pacific for the past year. Based upon the performance of the units assigned to PacArea, it would appear that Brown’s field commanders heard him loud and clear.
Brown leveraged theater-level partnerships to optimize mission execution in the conduct of fisheries enforcement across the Pacific to achieve several strategic outcomes. As many of the more valuable commercial fish to U.S. fisheries are migratory species like tuna, effective defense requires enforcement operations far from our shores employing a layered defense. PacArea forces worked in partnership with other Pacific nations, many of which rely on fishing for their very survival, to combat illegal fishing across the Pacific. One of the most effective operations is PacArea’s Shiprider program, where law enforcement officers from multiple nations ride aboard Coast Guard cutters to employ their respective jurisdictional authorities as appropriate depending upon the flag of fishing vessels encountered.
The most obvious strategic outcome of this multinational partnership to defeat illegal fishing was the defense of our nation’s Pacific fisheries so important to our national economy. In addition, another strategic outcome was the enhancement of a joint strategy with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) U.S. Pacific Command to foster peace through nation-building and theater security cooperation operations. PacArea was able to use the bonds of friendship and trust built through the fisheries enforcement partnerships and associated international organizations like the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum as a bridge to broader efforts in strengthening U.S. international relationships. This includes programs like the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and the associated Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT) exercises sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command.
CARAT and SEACAT are a series of bilateral exercises in the Southeast Asia region. Coast Guard forces participate in these exercises, training with foreign coast guard and navy personnel to improve their skills in areas such as boarding techniques, search and rescue operations, and smallboat handling. This year PacArea deployed an eight-person team from Maritime Safety and Security Team San Francisco (91105) for CARAT; from May 1 to July 12, the team worked with maritime forces from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. These same countries also participated in SEACAT along with Singapore and Brunei.
PacArea’s international outreach and operations extended far beyond fisheries enforcement and theater security cooperation. The area’s Activities Far East (FEACT), commanded by Capt. John Koster and headquartered at Yokota Air Base, Japan, continued an active itinerary of operations throughout its AOR including the response to the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Following the disaster, Coast Guard personnel from FEACT joined the U.S. response, called Operation Tomodachi. They filled a vital capacity gap in the critical first hours and days of the response while the DoD mobilized. Coast Guard men and women stood watch in the crisis-action center and acted as liaison between the Japanese coast guard and the U.S. Crisis Action Team. In all, FEACT members provided more than 600 hours of support to the response.
FEACT also supported the service’s international port security program. Mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA), Coast Guard security personnel visit foreign ports to assess their maritime security programs and exchange best security practices. Ports found to have inadequate security are placed on the Port Security Advisory List, meaning that vessels arriving from that port must go through more stringent security requirements before entering U.S. ports. FEACT worked with these nations to facilitate the arrival of Coast Guard security visits. Service personnel also worked with one island nation with a port that had been placed on the advisory list to help it improve security and come off the list. Removing a port from the advisory list not only benefits the foreign country but the Coast Guard as well by reducing the requirement for additional boardings and examinations.
As part of an outreach to international shipping, FEACT partnered with the American Bureau of Shipping to host three “Shipping in U.S. Waters” seminars in China and Taiwan. Attended by more than 300 shipping owners, the seminars informed participants on U.S. Port State Control Examinations, marine casualty investigations, and MTSA. The information shared will help shippers to comply with U.S. regulations facilitating the flow of commerce.
Closer to home in the Eastern Pacific, Pacific Area cutters have made a significant impact on illegal drug smuggling. In March, the CGC Midgett interdicted a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel 335 miles off of Costa Rica. The SPSS was carrying more than 13,000 pounds of cocaine. In April, the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman interdicted another SPSS 300 miles off of Costa Rica. The SPSS was able to scuttle itself, but the Sherman recovered several bales of cocaine and arrested the crew of four. Interdiction of these semi-submersibles is significant as they have been very hard to detect and represent one of the latest methods used by smugglers to transport large volumes of drugs.
The cases involving the Sherman and Midgett, as well as PacArea’s international fisheries enforcement program, highlight the critical role the Hamilton-class 378-foot high-endurance cutters play in ensuring the safety and security of the United States and its citizens, particularly across the vast expanse of the Pacific. The high-endurance cutters are old and suffering serious structural and mechanical failures at an increasing rate. Built in the 1960s, they are well past their planned service life and are now being decommissioned. Two PacArea Hamilton-class cutters, the Hamilton and the Chase, were decommissioned in March.
The high-endurance cutters are being replaced by the new 418-foot national security cutters (NSCs) or maritime security cutter-large (WMSL). The first NSC, the CGC Bertholf, is already operating in the Pacific. The second, the CGC Waesche, recently was certified for operations in September. The next NSC, the Stratton, completed acceptance trials in August and was delivered to the Coast Guard in early September; the Stratton is scheduled to be commissioned in March 2012. The national security cutters provide significant enhancements in the command, control, and communications systems and surveillance capabilities and are a much-needed infusion to the PacArea’s suite of operational tools.
This article was first published in Coast Guard Outlook: 2012 Edition.