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NEWS | Sept. 12, 2023

U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and CNMI agencies successfully conduct joint search and rescue exercise

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

In a demonstration of steadfast commitment to maritime safety, U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and Station Apra Harbor personnel teamed up with seven local CNMI departments to conduct a comprehensive search and rescue exercise (SAREx) off the coast of Saipan near Managaha Island on Sept. 7 through 8.

"Each person here has something valuable to offer; coming together, we can teach and grow. That way, we're best prepared for a life-threatening emergency," said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Igisomar, a U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue mission controller and Saipan native. "Working and learning together with our CNMI brothers and sisters, we can save the lives of our friends, families, neighbors, and visitors in our wonderful islands."

Building upon the foundations of a 2022 SAREx, this two-day event showcased interagency coordination, expertise, and invaluable training that are critical for the success of real-world search and rescue operations. The event involved more than 40 participants from various agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, Department of Fire and Emergency Management Services, Customs and Biosecurity, CPA Port Police, and several environmental quality departments. It commenced with a simulated 911 call reporting a vessel on fire a few nautical miles off the coast. Six boats carrying over 30 rescue personnel were underway within an hour, implementing the search pattern lessons the U.S. Coast Guard team provided the previous day.

Participating Agencies:

- BECQ – Bureau of Environmental and Coast Quality

- CRM – Conservation Resource Management

- DPS – Department of Public Safety – Boating Safety Section and 911 Dispatch

- Customs and Biosecurity

- Commonwealth Port Authority - Ports Police

- DFEMS – Department of Fire and Emergency Management Services

- EOC – Emergency Operations Center/State Warning Point

Over the past 13 months, the diverse search and rescue operations spearheaded by U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam have underscored the indispensable role of preparedness, inter-agency cooperation, and international partnerships.

• The medical evacuation of a 50-year-old man experiencing chest pains from Agrihan Island by the USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139) in August 2022 emphasized the necessity of agile response and effective communication across multiple jurisdictions.

• The February 2023 operation by USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139) between Guam and Rota for three distressed mariners whose boat sank resulted in two lives saved. It demonstrated the critical importance of rapid multi-agency coordination in immediate response scenarios.

• The May 2023 operation led by the USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) to medically evacuate a 30-year-old man suffering from head and neck injuries due to a speargun accident on Alamagan Island showcased the pivotal importance of medical expertise and tight coordination with local emergency services.

• The multi-national rescue of 11 people from a foundering vessel off the coast of Rota in July involved local responders and French, Canadian, and U.S. military assets, highlighting the power of international collaboration.

• Lastly, the recent rescue operation and tow for the seven-member crew of the motor vessel Mama Loling undertaken by the USCGC Frederick Hatch (WPC 1143) in August 2023 demonstrated how invaluable scientific input and multi-agency coordination, even from academic sectors like Oregon State University, can be in optimizing rescue efforts.

These cases individually and collectively affirm the importance of ongoing search and rescue exercises and relationship-building among various partners. These missions serve as real-world validations of our readiness and capability to effectively respond to a wide array of challenges.

Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam conducts SARExs in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Compact of Free Association states. These exercises evaluate notification and response procedures and identify communication and coordination shortfalls during SAR incidents. Each agency holds individual capabilities that complement each other's efforts, thereby bolstering the overall success of the SAR system. The team is planning another exercise for 2024 to continue fostering growth and partnership between federal, local, and military agencies involved in search and rescue operations.

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