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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Coast Guard improves regional capabilities

Station Apra Harbor’s new 45-foot Response Boat-Medium can conduct search and rescue and law enforcement operations over 50 miles from shore, and is rugged enough to operate in 12-foot seas. (USCG) APRA HARBOR, Guam—Coast Guard units in Guam are receiving technology upgrades and new capabilities to better serve the people of Guam and the CNMI.

Starting today, Sector Guam will bring online the Rescue 21 communications system. Aptly dubbed “911 for mariners,” Rescue 21 enhances clarity of distress calls, upgrades the playback and recording feature of distress calls, is interoperable with local agency communication systems, and adds a direction finding capability that will help search and rescue watchstanders pinpoint the source of the distress call out on the water.

VHF radio communications capabilities throughout the region will increase notably with the rollout of Rescue 21, which includes new antennas in Guam and on Rota and Saipan. The system boasts 98.9 percent coverage of the waters between Guam and Saipan out to 20 miles and, in some areas, coverage extends well beyond 20 miles.

“With this significant improvement of communications coverage in the region, it is important to stress the importance of carrying a VHF radio on board your boat or other pleasure craft,” said Capt. Casey White, Sector Guam commander. “We commonly see local mariners in distress reach for their cell phones, but with this new system, making a distress call on channel 16 on a VHF radio will help take the search out of search and rescue, saving time and saving lives.”

This new system will even pick up and provide direction finding capabilities from a 1 watt handheld radio transmission by a kayaker up to 20 miles offshore.

Another recent addition is Station Apra Harbor’s new 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, or RB-M. The RB-M can conduct search and rescue and law enforcement operations over 50 miles from shore, and is rugged enough to operate in 12-foot seas, vastly improving ability to respond to the areas north and east of Guam where seas are especially rough throughout the year.

The RB-M is equipped with a jet drive system that offers greater speed and maneuverability. The boat is packed with new communications technology and search capabilities including a Forward Looking Infrared camera.

“FLIR will enhance the Station’s ability to search at night, as the technology uses heat imaging to highlight objects in the water,” said Senior Chief Nicholas Pavlik, officer-in-charge of Station Apra Harbor. “Flares, flashlights and other signaling devices should be on board your vessel, even if you don’t plan to be out after sunset, always plan for the unexpected.” A second RB-M is scheduled to arrive on island in September this year.

Finally, the Coast Guard is implementing the LA51, a non-lethal signaling and warning device to support the service’s ports waterways and coastal security mission, and the equipment has just arrived in Guam.

The LA51 is fired from a 12-gauge military shotgun to produce a visible signal at a range of 100 meters. The device is considered a safer alternative to the current warning devices used by Coast Guard personnel. It is a shorter range round, and the flash and noise produced by the device are more prominent than a splash in the water caused by the M16 tracer round. Additionally, the Department of Defense’s joint non-lethal weapons program has determined through their testing that the LA51 has a significantly low risk of injury.

Once training is complete, the warning device will be used for security zone enforcement in Guam and the CNMI.

“We are excited about the increased capability these new resources will bring to the region. The Coast Guard’s investment in Rescue 21 and the RB-M will save lives locally by improving our search and rescue abilities,” said Capt. Casey White. (USCG)

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