HONOLULU—The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Midgett concluded last Thursday a 37-day patrol to counter illegal fishing and regional security operations in Oceania.
“I’m extremely proud of our crew, overcoming the challenges coronavirus has brought and successfully conducting our first operational patrol,” said Capt. Alan McCabe, commanding officer, Midgett. “Now more than ever, ensuring our persistent presence in the region is vital to protecting national interests. We are proactively conducting our missions and appreciate the excellent support from within the Service.”
Midgett’s crew protected U.S. fisheries by patrolling the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. This action ensured U.S. presence to assure U.S. sovereignty and resource security in these remote regions.
Midgett also patrolled the high seas and boarded foreign-flagged fishing vessels, enforcing international fisheries regulations under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to promote maritime governance. These operations targeted IUU fishing in the highly valued “Tuna Belt” and directly supported the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Operation 365, committed to consistent regional enforcement presence.
Patrolling over 7,118 square nautical miles (8,191 statute miles), the Midgett ‘s law enforcement team boarded seven commercial foreign-flagged fishing vessels. The boardings verified compliance with WCPFC conservation management measures and specifications for the marking and identification of fishing vessels. They conducted 15 additional sightings and vessel queries. Those reports were provided to the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Center in Honiara, Solomon Islands, demonstrating the Coast Guard’s interoperability with its key regional partners. The crew conducted joint operations with crews aboard an HC-130 Hercules long-range surveillance aircraft from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, who flew several reconnaissance flights to improve maritime domain awareness.
“The presence of a National Security Cutter in this part of the Pacific to enforce Conservation and Management Measures established by the WCPFC and working cooperatively with the FFA represents the U.S. and the Service’s commitment to our partnerships in the region,” said McCabe. “The prevention of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated tuna fishing is vital and will have a direct, positive effect on peace, governance, and continued American presence throughout the region.”
“The deployment of cutter Midgett to Oceania for their first patrol is a signal of our enduring presence in the region and demonstrates the United States’ continued commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area commander. “In the face of coercive and antagonistic behavior, we offer transparent engagement and partnership in support of individual sovereignty and the protection of our mutual interests.”
Midgett’s crew of 120 departed their homeport of Honolulu in late March but returned shortly after to address concerns over possible COVID-19 exposure among the crew. One crew member who did not sail with the cutter for other reasons tested positive for the virus on April 1. Although no one else showed COVID-19 symptoms, the command, in concert with military and state health officials, took immediate and decisive action to quarantine and test those at risk of exposure. No one aboard tested positive, and the ill member ashore made a full recovery. Midgett resumed the patrol on April. 8.
“Cutter Midgett’s successful first patrol countering IUU fishing to promote maritime governance in Oceania is essential to U.S. national security and to supporting Pacific Island Forum countries whose resource security is vital to their own national security,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, Coast Guard 14th District. “Midgett also conducted significant training while underway to improve and sustain the crew and cutter’s operational and warfighting readiness. The Coast Guard remains Semper Paratus (‘Always Ready’), despite the challenges of this global pandemic.”
The Pacific Islands FFA strengthens national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control, and develop their tuna fisheries now and in the future. Based in Honiara, the Solomon Islands, FFA’s 17 Pacific Island members are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The WCPFC is an international body made up of 43 nations and international organizations. Members agree to allow the 13-enforcer countries in the pact to board and record any potential violations on their nationally flagged vessels. The findings go to the WCPFC, who notifies the vessel’s flag state of the suspected infraction for further investigation. (USCG)