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NEWS | July 12, 2023

French, Canadian, U.S. Forces collaborate with local responders in successful rescue operation off Rota, CNMI

By Chief Warrant Officer Sara Muir, U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia / Sector Guam

French, Canadian, and U.S. Forces, with local responders, successfully conducted a search and rescue operation to save the operator and passengers of a distressed vessel off the coast of Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, on July 10.

Thanks to the coordinated efforts of local partnerships and the utilization of aircraft resources, all 11 people from the center console fishing vessel are safely in Rota.

At 5:05 p.m. on July 10, Watchstanders at U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam's Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received a distress call on VHF channel 16 from the operator of the 21-foot vessel Full 20 Horizon, stating the vessel was disabled and adrift in 6-foot seas and 12 mph winds with 11 people aboard, approximately 30 nautical miles northwest of Rota. Due to the lack of GPS onboard and the inability to use a cell phone to acquire a GPS position, the situation became even more critical.

In response, the watchstanders promptly issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast, alerting mariners in the area to be aware of the distressed vessel. They also established a 15-minute communications schedule with the vessel operator and instructed the passengers to wear their flotation devices for safety.

Watchstanders initiated coordinated efforts with the CNMI Department of Public Safety in Rota, who launched their 27-foot vessel to aid in the rescue operation. Additionally, partnerships with the U.S. Air Force 36th Wing and U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 at Andersen Air Force Base proved invaluable in securing the assistance of multiple aircraft crews for the response.

Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam, emphasized the importance of aircraft in search and rescue operations at sea, stating, "Aircraft crews play a crucial role in our efforts to save lives in challenging maritime situations. Using aerial assets, combined with our local partnerships, ensures a swift and effective response to distress calls, ultimately increasing the chances of a successful rescue."

A French Air and Space Force A400 Atlas military transport aircraft and crew were the first aircrew to respond, launching from Andersen Air Force Base and locating the vessel at about 8 p.m. after running a search pattern. They worked to vector in the Department of Public Safety crew.

Unfortunately, the initial rescue attempt by the Department of Public Safety's crew was hindered by severe sea conditions as winds increased to 18 mph and seas built to 8 feet, forcing them to abort the mission. However, the French Air and Space Force A400 crew remained on the scene and maintained visual contact with the disabled vessel. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the crew of USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139), on a port call in Saipan, was recalled, and watchstanders reengaged with HSC-25 to address the evolving circumstances.

Watchstanders also requested additional overhead support from the U.S. Air Force 36th Wing, who offered a Royal Canadian Air Force HC-130 airplane and crew to replace the French crew due to fuel constraints. At 11:15 p.m., the Canadian crew then on scene informed watchstanders that the lights on the distressed vessel went out, but they maintained visual contact with its position.

The U.S. Navy MH-60 Nighthawk helicopter and crew launched to aid the rescue efforts further. After a swift transit, the Nighthawk crew arrived at approximately 1 a.m. and immediately commenced hoisting the operator and passengers. The aircrew transported those rescued to the Rota airport, where local emergency responders and law enforcement met them. The passengers did not report any injuries, and the aircrew did not observe any.

The Nighthawk and Canadian aircrews returned to Andersen Air Force Base at 2:40 a.m., successfully concluding their part in the rescue operation. Meanwhile, the Myrtle Hazard crew continued their search for the vessel relocating it around 10 a.m. Weather conditions improved, and they will take the vessel in tow to deliver it to Rota.

Nine of the 11 people rescued are reportedly citizens the People’s Republic of China. Local law enforcement in Rota is currently addressing these matters. The U.S. Coast Guard remains committed to working closely with local authorities to ensure the safety of those at sea and the security of our maritime borders.

Notably, the French and Canadian aircraft crews participating in Exercise Mobility Guardian 2023 are contributing their expertise to this successful rescue operation. Exercise Mobility Guardian, Air Mobility Command's largest full-spectrum readiness exercise, involves seven participating countries and supports over 15,000 U.S. forces, Allied, and partner participants in the Indo-Pacific region.

For more information or media inquiries about the multilateral rescue operation, please contact CWO Sara Muir at 671-688-6096 or sara.g.muir@uscg.mil. For information about the vessel or the disposition of the those rescued, please contact the CNMI Department of Public Safety at (670) 664-9035 or pio@dps.gov.mp.

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