HONOLULU—The crews of two Coast Guard cutters, the Walnut and Joseph Gerczak, returned to Honolulu at the end of August following a successful deployment to Samoa and the U.S. territory of American Samoa, where they conducted operations to counter illegal fishing and strengthen relations with allies and partner nations.
“Our Coast Guard crews demonstrated superior performance during intense operations over the past month in support of the government of Samoa and within the U.S. territory of American Samoa,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District. “Working with Australia and New Zealand, we supported the government of Samoa by embarking Samoan law enforcement shipriders on a Coast Guard cutter to patrol their exclusive economic zone and ensure Samoan sovereignty. We also patrolled the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa to protect U.S. sovereignty. Our crews’ local engagements in Samoa and American Samoa reinforced our enduring shared values and Polynesian heritage, and advanced U.S. strategic interests in Oceania.”
The operation, named “Aiga,” the Samoan word for family, was first announced by U.S. Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz in a July interview describing the Coast Guard expansion of its permanent presence and effectiveness in the region through expeditionary capabilities, doubling down in Oceania.
The U.S. employs 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum nations throughout Oceania to help them counter illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing within their 200 nautical mile EEZ. Again, this operation was undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa awaits the delivery of its new, highly capable patrol boats from Australia later this year.
During the busy monthlong deployment, the Walnut crew conducted numerous fishing vessel boardings with officers from the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the Samoan EEZ. The Walnut also carried Australian Fisheries Management Authority officers and a Chinese linguist from the U.S. Marine Corps. They further conducted maritime exercises with the Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Otago and Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Choules.
“It was a pleasure to assist the government of Samoa, as part of a bilateral shiprider agreement, in enforcing their maritime sovereignty and resource security to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing within their exclusive economic zone,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Jasnoch, commanding officer, Walnut. “We also had the privilege to strengthen our partnerships with New Zealand and Australia and proved our inter-operability by conducting at-sea maneuvers with Otago and Choules.”
The Walnut crew engendered goodwill by hosting a reception with the U.S. Embassy for the acting prime minister of Samoa and senior Samoan government officials. The Walnut team also visited, read to, and played games with students at the Lufilufi Primary School in Apia. During a second port call, crews from Walnut and Joseph Gerczak attended sports practices with the Samoan Junior National Golf Team and American Gridiron football club. Both ships complement also hosted shipboard tours for dignitaries, a maritime academy, and the public.
“The crew felt extremely rewarded to have these opportunities, and we look forward to returning to Samoa and American Samoa, hopefully soon,” said Jasnoch.
In support of strong maritime commerce and maritime transportation system, the Walnut crew installed a new Automatic Identification System transmitter in American Samoa designed to notify mariners of the location of navigational hazards within the harbor if the physical aid marking the hazard is damaged or not working properly. The crew also recovered a sunken buoy in Pago Pago and replaced it with a new one to ensure safe navigation for mariners transiting in and out of the U.S. strategic deepwater port.
The Joseph Gerczak set a new mark for the expeditionary deployment of the 154-foot fast response cutters by traveling between Honolulu and American Samoa, 2,300 miles in nine days, without refueling en route.
During the deployment, the Joseph Gerczak crew also conducted professional exchanges with the New Zealand navy crew of Otago.
“The exchange with the Otago crew was a great opportunity to share best practices and hear their knowledge of this area including Samoa and the high-seas pocket that we do not frequently patrol,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer, Joseph Gerczak. “It was a great experience to see how another nation’s navy operates and the similarities and differences between us.”
The Joseph Gerczak crew conducted joint boardings in the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa with U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officers and the American Samoa Marine Police. Later, the Joseph Gerczak joined up with Walnut in Apia, Samoa to participate in community relations events on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. The Joseph Gerczak also assisted local responders with search and rescue efforts for two teenagers swept out from shore by high swells off the main island of Tutuila. Despite the best search efforts by all involved, the teens remain missing. All of these efforts had a profound impact on the crew.
“It’s been a long patrol, but getting out to Samoa, meeting some of the locals and getting to take part in operations was well worth the trip,” said Joseph Gerczak fireman Ty Kamiyama. “It’s good to know that we have laid a foundation to continue building strong relations with the Samoan community.”
“This patrol was an amazing experience to see firsthand just what our asset is capable of,” said Joseph Gerczak Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Sabatini. “I thought getting to see the culture in Samoa was amazing. I got to go out with several other crewmembers to teach local youth about American football. It was such an enriching and rewarding time for all of us.”
The U.S. and its allies are trusted partners in Oceania. Operation Aiga is one of several operations conducted by the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France as part of the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (Pacific QUAD) in support of PIF countries. The Pacific QUAD has historically supported PIF countries in their efforts to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in their exclusive economic zones. This year, the Pacific QUAD expanded the scope of its activities to encompass the broad range of maritime security concerns expressed by the PIF in the 2018 Boe Declaration.
The Walnut is a 225-foot Juniper class seagoing buoy tender responsible for maintaining aids to navigation, performing maritime law enforcement, port, and coastal security, search and rescue and environmental protection. Designed to patrol coastal regions, the Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel class fast response cutter and one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet to replace the 1980s-era 110-foot Island-class patrol boats. Both vessels call Honolulu their homeport. (USCG)