Maritime law enforcement is a huge mission for the U.S. Coast Guard, both in scope and magnitude. It includes everything from enforcing boating safety regulations to drug interdiction to living marine resources enforcement. And nearly every asset the Coast Guard has is involved.
For fiscal year 2017 alone, Coast Guard crews seized 223 metric tons of cocaine, 31,190 pounds of marijuana, 6 kilograms of heroin and other opiates, and 168 kilograms of methamphetamines. And that’s just drug smuggling. The Coast Guard also boarded 5,518 domestic fishing vessels to ensure critical fish stocks remain available for future generations, and Coast Guard crews interdicted 2,512 undocumented migrants.
“We’re getting the four FRCs – the new fast response cutters – which are going to be our assets,” said Kelly. The FRCs will replace the 87-foot and 110-foot patrol boats, with the first one arriving at San Pedro in November 2018.
Cmdr. Heather Kelly is deputy chief of enforcement for District 11, with an area of responsibility (AOR) from the California-Oregon border to the Pacific Ocean, and all the way down to the Peru-Ecuador border.
To help conduct enforcement missions, Kelly said that District 11 has 13 Marine Protector-class 87-foot coastal patrol boats, which are based at ports along the California coast, including Crescent City, Eureka, Bodega Bay, San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Marina del Ray, Corona del Mar, and San Diego.
“We’re getting the four FRCs – the new fast response cutters – which are going to be our assets,” said Kelly. The FRCs will replace the 87-foot and 110-foot patrol boats, with the first one arriving at San Pedro in November 2018. District 11’s last 110-foot Island-class patrol boat was decommissioned in 2017.
In addition to the patrol boats that work for District 11, Pacific Area has national security cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and buoy tenders that operate in District 11’s AOR.
“There are a lot of drugs coming from Central and South America,” said Kelly. “We work with our international partners so we can all attack those concerns together. We have a lot of bilateral agreements with these countries, which we use on practically a daily basis during operations. And we have a trilateral agreement operating procedure with our Mexico and Canadian partners, which is the North American Security Initiative. So, we basically [have] agreements in place from Ecuador all the way up through Central America and Mexico as well as Canada.”
Some of the decommissioned 110s will be turned over to partner nations, like Costa Rica. She said Costa Rica is an example of an effective partner. “They are very aggressive in their law enforcement and their pursuit of smugglers, but they’re also very aggressive on prosecuting offenders. We’ve had Coast Guard people go to Costa Rica, or appear on a video teleconference, to testify for Costa Rican cases,” she said.
Kelly said she uses all the tools in the tool box. Buoy tenders primarily service aids to navigation, and they are also built for marine environmental response with the Spilled Oil Recovery System (SORS) aboard. So, they are multi-mission cutters. They can conduct search and rescue, and they have a boarding team aboard that can do law enforcement missions.