KOLONIA, Federated States of Micronesia -- Members of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District conducted meetings and a tabletop exercise in Pohnpei the week of Dec. 12 around the use of the expanded bilateral agreement in support of maritime law enforcement operations recently signed between the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States in October, before successfully executing boardings under the agreement Dec. 17.
"We are so pleased to be strengthening our trust and partnership with our colleagues in the Federated States of Micronesia to overcome complex challenges to maritime enforcement in the region," said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam. "FSM is a nation with over six hundred islands, and covering that area with available patrol vessels is a challenge. We frequently patrol the region with our Fast Response Cutters from Guam. Still, it can be quite a logistical undertaking to get an FSM marine police officer from Pohnpei aboard a patrol vessel in time to respond to a possible illegal fishing situation, particularly farther out in Yap or Kosrae states."
The purpose of the tabletop exercise was to walk through the process of using the standard operating procedures under the expanded agreement. The team met with local government members, including the judicial and law enforcement branches. Then on Dec. 17, the crew of the USCGC Frederick Hatch (WPC 1143), after departing Kosrae, successfully conducted two boardings on licensed fishing vessels operating in the FSM exclusive economic zone with FSM's approval.
"It was very fulfilling to have an opportunity to enact the procedures under the expanded agreement for the first time after watching the program develop over the last year," said Lt. Patrick Dreiss, USCGC Frederick Hatch commanding officer. "It provides the U.S. Coast Guard with another avenue to support our regional partners and continues to lay the groundwork for increasing Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing enforcement in the region."
The expanded agreement builds on the existing bilateral shiprider agreement between the two countries. It establishes procedures for authorizing the U.S. to conduct maritime law enforcement boardings on behalf of FSM to combat illicit maritime activity when an FSM law enforcement officer is not present. More specifically, the agreement provides a coordinating mechanism and process for U.S. law enforcement personnel to work with the FSM National Police, Division of Border Control and Maritime Surveillance to receive approval from the FSM to act under the agreement.
The U.S. Coast Guard regularly exercises 11 bilateral fisheries law enforcement agreements on behalf of the United States with countries throughout the Pacific islands. Shiprider agreements allow maritime law enforcement officers to observe, board, and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within a designated EEZ or on the high seas. These law enforcement activities bolster maritime law enforcement operations and maritime domain awareness and provide a mechanism to conduct integrated operations within the Pacific. This expanded agreement is the first of its kind.
"We're excited to launch the expanded maritime enforcement operations, which will strengthen FSM sovereignty and protect vital marine resources," said Alissa Bibb, Chargé d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kolonia.
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains strong partnerships with the maritime forces in the region through extensive training and subject matter expert exchanges. FSM, also known as the Big Ocean State, has one of the world's largest EEZs, with waters rich in sea life. FSM consists of four states — Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae — each with a mix of unique peoples, languages, and cultures. FSM is a signatory to a Compact of Free Association with the United States. They are also a Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Association member and a party to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.
As part of Operation Rematau and Operation Blue Pacific, the crew of the USCGC Frederick Hatch conducted an expeditionary patrol through the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Nauru. In late November and early December, their efforts resulted in six at-sea boardings of fishing vessels with an FSM shiprider aboard and noted no significant violations. This activity was the first time in several years an FSM shiprider could accompany U.S. Coast Guard crews as the country resumes normal operations after limiting travel as a COVID precaution. The shiprider returned to Pohnpei before the cutter crew departed for RMI and Nauru, where the team went on to conduct boardings with shipriders from those countries.
"This was an excellent warm-up of our bilateral relations and fisheries enforcement process. It was great to have local experts with us again, refresh everyone's memory, and provide services to our FSM partners," Simmons said. "The successful application of the expanded agreement now allows us to support our partners better. FSM occupies more than one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean and ranges 1,700 miles from West (Yap) to East (Kosrae) with the enforcement team in Pohnpei. This agreement allows us to help our partners overcome the logistics that limited enforcement in the past when it is difficult to get a shiprider out to the field."
U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam crews conducted regular patrols in FSM's EEZ during COVID and provided sighting reports but could not board vessels in the EEZ without an FSM shiprider along. The Frederick Hatch crew was in Pohnpei in early 2022 for a no-contact replenishment while on patrol in the EEZ. The USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) crew kicked off Operation Rematau in October with a nearly 2,000 nautical mile deployment to the high seas and the Federated States of Micronesia, countering illegal fishing through their presence and strengthening partnerships through community engagements.
Operation Rematau is how U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam supports the overarching Coast Guard endeavor Operation Blue Pacific to promote security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania. Rematau means people of the deep sea. It recognizes the wisdom of the Pacific Island Forum leaders in that securing the future requires long-term vision and a carefully considered regional strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. Op Rematau reinforces U.S. commitment to working together to advance Pacific regionalism based on the Blue Pacific narrative. This action supports U.S. national security objectives, bolstering regional maritime governance and security.