NEWS | Sept. 17, 2018

Operation Island Chief: Strengthening Pacific Partnerships

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific

HONOLULU, Hawaii -- The Coast Guard is responsible for 11 main missions. Ranging from search and rescue to coastal security, navigation markers, and living marine resource enforcement; Coast Guard crews aboard our assets around the nation often perform more than one of these missions regularly, and most of our assets are designed to be effective in multiple purposes.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia (WLB 215) is a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender, recognized by its black hull, homeported in Apra Harbor, Guam. The primary mission of the cutter’s crew is to maintain aids to navigation in Guam and the Northern Marianas; however, the capabilities of the cutter and the team are a prime example of this multi-mission success. The Sequoia crew regularly conducts fisheries enforcement missions through the Western Pacific in support of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) treaties and regulations as well as supporting bilateral agreements between the Pacific Island nations of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“Sequoia completed a multi-mission patrol on behalf of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to enforce Conservation Management Measures amongst the commercial fishing fleets operating within the treaty area,” said Lt. Cmdr. William Adams, Sequoia’s commanding officer. “During the first half of the patrol, the crew participated in Operation Island Chief, a sponsored collaboration under the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. This operation included participants from Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Quadrilateral Defense Coordination Group.”

During this recent patrol, Sequoia’s crew conducted a total of 12 boardings on foreign-flagged fishing vessels and cited 16 potential violations which reported to the fishing vessel’s home nation for further investigation and disposition. The patrol took place over 16 days, covering approximately 4,500 miles west of Guam on high seas targeting vessels fishing in the WCPFC area. Coast Guard cutter crews also visit and work in the exclusive economic zone of partner nations throughout the year to conduct bilaterally negotiated fishery enforcement agreements designed to protect the sovereignty and marine resources in the Pacific.

Some stated goals of the operation were to detect, deter, report and apprehend potential illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing activity, and enhance Pacific Island Country involvement and participation in maritime fisheries surveillance and response operations. Sequoia’s crew also embarked observers from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in what was the first USCG-DFO joint exchange with enforcement of the WCPFC Fishery. The DFO Officers integrated and accompanied Sequoia's Coast Guard boarding teams, bringing their professionalism and experience as they observed the Coast Guard’s Boarding operations.

About 66 percent of the world's tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific according to the National Fisheries Institute, and fisheries are the primary economic driver in the Pacific, especially for small Pacific Island Nations. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing results in losses of more than an estimated 21 to 46 percent of catch representing a $1.5 billion revenue loss in the region according to the Marine Resource Assessment Group. This loss directly detracts regional stability, governance and increases the risk for other transnational crime from supplanted traditional fishing voids created by economic declines. This threat is why a robust multilateral enforcement presence is crucial.

Not only did the crew conduct the fisheries boardings, but also assessed and documented aids to navigation while entering the harbor of Koror, Palau, to ensure the safe navigation of the waterways.

"We will have a continued and robust presence in the Western and Central Pacific,” said LCDR Nicolas Jarboe, chief of the Coast Guard 14th District Waterways Management Branch.“This assessment of Koror’s aids to navigation provides a reference point to work with the government of Palau on a plan to improve the integrity of their aids thus enhancing the safety of inbound and outbound vessel transits."

The work of the crews didn’t stop there and was not just on the water. Crewmembers volunteered to help the community as well. Several members participated in assisting the state to clean up and renovate facilities for victims of human trafficking.

The crew of Sequoia, like all Coast Guard crews across the country, are devoted to serving the people in any way they can. Whether it be on the open ocean, in the harbor, on land or in your neighborhood, we are Semper Paratus.