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NEWS | April 9, 2024

U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy unite for maritime rescue, emphasizing community ties in FSM

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

Three mariners are safe on April 9, 2024, thanks to the coordination of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the U.S. Navy, after being stranded on Pikelot Atoll, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), for more than a week.

Responders successfully located the three mariners on Pikelot Atoll on the evening of April 9 and returned them and their outboard 100 nautical miles to Polowat Atoll, Chuuk State.

"Our unwavering dedication to the search and rescue mission not only ensures the safety and well-being of mariners and coastal communities but also reinforces the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation between the United States and the FSM and with our DoD partners," said Capt. Nicholas Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam.

On April 6, Joint Rescue Sub-Center (JRSC) Guam received a distress call from a relative of the three mariners reporting her three uncles had not returned from Pikelot Atoll, approximately 100 nautical miles northwest of Polowat Atoll.

"Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship, making a profound impact on the lives of individuals and the resilience of communities across the FSM," said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Igisomar, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day they were rescued.

The three mariners, all men in their 40s, reportedly embarked on their voyage from Polowat Atoll Easter Sunday in a small 20-foot open skiff equipped with an outboard motor and experience in navigating these waters.

Response and Rescue Operations:

JRSC Guam watchstanders immediately began coordinating a multifaceted search and rescue operation. Despite initial challenges in mobilizing air assets due to availability, operational commitments, and weather conditions, persistent efforts led to the engagement of a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft crew from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan and the diversion of USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140), already underway in the FSM, to the initial search area which spanned over 78,000 square nautical miles.

The breakthrough came when the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft identified the three mariners on April 7 on Pikelot Atoll, confirming their presence and condition.

"In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out "HELP" on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery. This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location" said Lt. Chelsea Garcia, the search and rescue mission coordinator on the day they were located. "This successful operation underscores the effective coordination and partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, and regional partners. We extend our gratitude to everyone involved."

The aircraft crew successfully deployed survival packages to sustain the mariners until further assistance could arrive. USCGC Oliver Henry was rerouted to Pikelot Atoll to conduct the rescue operation.

Key Development:

A pivotal moment in the rescue operation came on April 8, when a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130J Hercules aircraft from Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii overflew the area. The crew was able to relocate the mariners, dropping a radio to establish communication. The mariners confirmed they were in good health, had access to food and water, and recovered their skiff, which unfortunately sustained damage, rendering it and its outboard engine non-functional. They expressed a desire for assistance in returning to Polowat.

Current Status:

USCGC Oliver Henry rendezvoused with the mariners on Pikelot Atoll on the morning of April 9. As requested, the ship successfully rescued the mariners and their equipment and returned them to Polowat Atoll.

"Whether we're out there protecting valuable resources or saving lives, we're not just visitors – we're members of this vibrant maritime community that connects all these islands," said Lt. Ray Cerrato, commanding officer of USCGC Oliver Henry. "This recent operation near Pikelot Atoll hits home the kind of difference we can make. It's about more than just performing a duty; it's about the real human connections we forge and the lives we touch. Every day, I'm reminded of the impact we have and the bonds we build. It's incredibly rewarding to see the faces of those we've helped. Here on Oliver Henry, we're not just a crew; we're part of the heartbeat of the Pacific, and I couldn't be prouder of the work we do."

The U.S. Coast Guard strongly recommends that all mariners equip their vessels with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) to enhance safety on the water. A growing number of maritime communities offer loaner programs for these devices, making it easier for everyone to access this critical safety tool.

-USCG-

About U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam

The U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam team focuses on maritime safety, security, and stewardship in Oceania. With a primary presence in Guam and Saipan and over 300 members across Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the team maintains a strong U.S. presence in the Micronesia subregion and adjacent areas, closely tied to local communities. They have search and rescue responsibility for maritime events over more than 1.9 million square miles, including the Federated States of Micronesia.

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