“Operation Vigilant Sentry: Stopping illegal migration at sea” –CG HQ

A Coast Guard Cutter Campbell law enforcement crew stopped a grossly overloaded, unsafe vessel near Turks and Caicos, May 9, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Villa-Rodriguez)

Below is a news release from Coast Guard Headquarters discussing the history and current situation of the Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast and of Operation Vigilant Sentry, a D7 lead Department wide Alien Migrant Interdiction Operation.

I have also included the text of the DHS Secretary’s remarks that were referenced in the release.

This release got wide distribution. I got it from HQ, LANTAREA, and PACAREA.


Jan. 27, 2023

Operation Vigilant Sentry: Stopping illegal migration at sea

By Petty Officer 1st Class Nicole J. Groll

A Coast Guard Cutter Campbell law enforcement crew stopped a grossly overloaded, unsafe vessel near Turks and Caicos, May 9, 2022. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell is homeported in Kittery, Maine. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Villa-Rodriguez) Two Coast Guard Cutter Campbell crew members assist a person suffering dehydration symptoms in the Windward Passage, April 30, 2022. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell is homeported in Kittery, Maine. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Campbell's crew) A Coast Guard Cutter Campbell medical crew member lets a child listen to his heart using a stethoscope in the Windward Passage, May 9, 2022. The people were repatriated to Haiti on May 11, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Villa-Rodriguez) 

A Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater C-130 aircrew alerted Sector Key West of a wooden vessel 25 miles south of Sugarloaf Key, Florida, Jan. 23, 2023. The people were repatriated on Jan. 25, 2023. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) A good Samaritan notified Coast Guard Sector Key West watchstanders of a rustic vessel about 13 miles south of Marquesas Key, Florida, June 12, 2022. The people were repatriated to Cuba on June 17, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) A Coast Guard Station Key West law enforcement crew alerted Sector Key West watchstanders of this migrant vessel about 3 miles south of Key West, Florida, July 6, 2022. The people were repatriated to Cuba on July 8, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Key West) 

Editor’s note: Click on images to download high-resolution version.

Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast was established in 2003 by the Department of Homeland Security. This interagency task force is comprised of resources and assets from the U.S. Coast Guard, the departments of Homeland Security, State, Defense, Health and Human Services, as well as those from state and local agencies. These agencies provide the organizational framework to monitor migration trends to detect and respond to a maritime mass migration.

Operation Vigilant Sentry was first approved in 2004. It is the arm of the task force that deploys joint air and surface assets and personnel to address illegal maritime migration in the Caribbean corridor of the United States. The primary objective: to protect the safety of life at sea, and to deter and dissuade a maritime mass migration with our federal, state and local partners.

The director of Homeland Security Task Force – Southeast is the commander for the Seventh Coast Guard District. Migrant interdiction is one of the 11 statutory missions assigned to the Coast Guard by Congress, giving the military service the authority to take the lead role in the ongoing and historic migrant surge.

OVS is also not country specific, but it is a framework for any Caribbean country. The most common nationalities trying to illegally migrate to Florida by sea are Cuban and Haitian. Despite the unique challenges faced by each country, the rationale for illegal migration can occur for any number of various reasons.

“The risk migrants are willing to take are unfathomable to most Americans: escaping poverty, violence, human trafficking, and persecution are a few realities,” said Cmdr. Ray Caro, chief of intelligence for Operation Vigilant Sentry. “Although change is gradual across nations in the Western Hemisphere, the frequency at which these challenges present themselves is certainly increasing. Politics, migration policies and natural disasters amplify those realities and trigger migration. As a result, maritime migration has been a lifesaving priority for the Coast Guard for more than 40 years.”

The weather, the possibility of drowning, the general unpredictability of the maritime domain all stand as barriers not just to the goals of illegal migrants, but also as threats to their very lives.

“These individuals are ignoring real risks,” said Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James, Coast Guard Station Islamorada’s commanding officer. “Just about every vessel we encounter in these voyages were constructed haphazardly with improvised materials and were taking on water. The few vessels that appeared to be well built were dangerously overloaded and capsizing was imminent when we arrived on scene. It’s very dangerous to try and cross the Florida Straits this way.”

In 2022, the Coast Guard saw one of the deadliest years for illegal migration in recent history with approximately 65 people dying trying to make it to the U.S. In 2020, the Coast Guard recorded 17 deaths and five in 2021. Despite the increased numbers and risk, the service remains dedicated to the preservation of life, imploring those who would see illegal maritime migration as an option.

“The Coast Guard and our partners are working to stop senseless migration-related deaths at sea by rescuing people in rustic, unsafe vessels,” said Capt. Benjamin Golightly, incident commander, Operation Vigilant Sentry. “Help us by not paying smugglers and instead, encourage safe, legal migration.”

Historically, Florida is no stranger to illegal migration. According to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 was established to allow Cuban natives and citizens living in the U.S. at least two years to apply to become lawful permanent residents by getting a Green Card. This applied to the Cuban arrivals who were paroled into the U.S. fleeing communism. In 1995, the so-called Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy was adopted. This meant if illegal migrants were stopped at sea, they were returned to their country of origin or departure. If they were stopped on land, they would eventually be paroled and able to apply for the Cuban Adjustment Act. In 2017, former President Obama repealed the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy.

After the repeal, illegal migration by sea declined for several years, but Coast Guard crews are seeing an increase once again.

Haitians started coming to the U.S. at the end of 1972 fleeing communism, according to the University of Texas’ history department. In 1998, the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act was enacted by Congress for eligible Haitian nationals in the U.S. to become legal permanent residents.

“As Haiti’s overall situation continues to erode, our crews have witnessed an alarming uptick in maritime migration; we see spikes in this dangerous activity following natural disasters or socio-economical events,” said Capt. Robert Kinsey, operations chief for Operation Vigilant Sentry. “These vessels are shockingly overloaded; when you see it firsthand, it’s almost unbelievable. Smugglers are coercing desperate people to endure unthinkable conditions for long periods of time. Many of our crews arrive just in time to rescue them from peril.”

The typical 40 to 50-foot Haitian sail freighter intercepted by Coast Guard assets have anywhere from 150 to 300 people aboard these overcrowded, unsafe vessels. A typical safe sailboat can safely hold about 30.

Back in July 2021, Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas told Cubans and Haitians in a press conference not to come to the U.S. by sea, noting the clear threats posed by the maritime domain.

“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, DHS Secretary. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: if you take to the Sea, you will not come to the United States.”

Cubans and Haitians who take to the sea and try to land in the U.S. may be ineligible for the parole process and will be placed in removal proceedings, he said.

People interdicted at sea will be repatriated to their country of origin or departure.

Illegal migration at sea is not only dangerous for the people attempting it, but it causes their family members unnecessary distress due to not knowing if their loved ones are alive or not.

“Family members call our command center all the time,” said Lt. Paul Benyovszky, a Sector Key West enforcement officer. “It can be a struggle to maintain our emotional balance when family members are crying and begging for information we don’t have.”

This isn’t an easy mission, and illegal migration isn’t going to go away, he said.

Since the new fiscal year started in October, crews interdicted 5,321 Cubans and 1,766 Haitians at sea. The service increased manpower and assets to the area to stop illegal migration at sea and rescue those in distress before the sea claims their lives. The Coast Guard continues to be the lead federal agency charged with this mission, and the crews and partner agencies are doing their very best to ensure people go home alive at the end of the day.


“USCGC Mohawk returns home following 46-day Caribbean Sea patrol” –LANT AREA-

USCGC Mohawk’s (WMEC 913) crew patrols the South Florida Straits during Operation Vigilant Sentry, Jan. 5, 2023. Mohawk’s crew patrolled the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea in support of Homeland Security Task Force—Southeast and Operation Vigilant Sentry in the Coast Guard Seventh District’s area of operations for a 46-day patrol. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by USCGC Legare (WMEC 912)

I don’t normally publish a news release like this, it is relatively routine, but I particularly wanted to highlight the photo above and provisions made to shelter migrants which have precluded helicopter operation. We have noted that the migrant traffic has increased substantially. The photo was taken by USCGC Legare, meaning that there were probably at least two 270 foot WMECs, that I would expect to be doing drug interdiction or fisheries, were engaged in Alien Migrant interdiction, in addition to the FRCs and 210 foot WMECs that are more commonly assigned to this mission. Note the large number of migrants interdicted and repatriated. I presume it means Mohawk had at least 273 migrants aboard at one time, out numbering the crew almost three to one.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area

Download Image Link Here Download Image Link  Download Image Link Here

Editor’s note: Click on images to download

KEY WEST, Fla.—The crew of the USCGC Mohawk (WMEC 913) returned to their home port in Key West, Monday, after a 46-day deployment in the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea.

Mohawk patrolled the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea in support of Homeland Security Task Force—Southeast and Operation Vigilant Sentry in the Coast Guard Seventh District’s area of operations. While underway, Mohawk’s crew conducted counter drug and maritime safety and security missions while working with other Coast Guard cutters and air assets to detect, deter and intercept unsafe and illegal migrant ventures bound for the United States.

During the patrol, Mohawk’s crew cared for 670 migrants interdicted at sea and rescued personnel from seven different unseaworthy vessels. Notably, Mohawk’s crew assisted with the repatriation of 110 Haitian migrants to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and 273 Cuban migrants to Matanzas, Cuba.

Mohawk’s patrol efforts highlight the Coast Guard’s critical mission of maintaining safety at sea and preventing the potential for loss of life by deterring migrants from taking to the sea in dangerously overcrowded vessels while attempting to enter the United States through non-legal channels.

“It’s never easy being deployed over the holidays, away from family members,” said Cmdr. Andrew Pate, Mohawk’s commanding officer. “I am incredibly proud of the women and men aboard who continue to position Mohawk for success – their role in this historic effort, alongside our state and local partners as well as other Coast Guard units, is nothing short of heroic.”

Mohawk is a 270-foot, Famous-class medium endurance cutter with a crew of 100. The cutter’s primary missions are counter drug operations, migrant interdiction, enforcement of federal fishery laws and search and rescue in support of U.S. Coast Guard operations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

For information on how to join the U.S. Coast Guard, visit GoCoastGuard.com to learn about active duty and reserve, officer and enlisted opportunities. Information on how to apply to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy can be found here.

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“China Pressures Argentina to Build Naval Base” –dialogo-americas.com

Cruise ships at dock, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Photo Credit: Rodolfo Pace

Dialogo Americas reports China is once again pressuring Argentina to build a naval base in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, at the Southern tip of South America.

There is no indication that Argentina is accepting the Chinese offer, but I can understand both why the Chinese are making the offer and why it would be attractive to Argentina.

The current Antarctic treaty is set to expire in 2048. It seems unlikely it will be renewed. Too many want to exploit mineral wealth that is believed to be there. There are already known conflicting claims on the continent, including overlapping claims by Argentina, Chile, and the UK. Even Japan has stated an intention to make a claim

Neither the US nor China has made a claim yet, but they are likely to. The US has a strong basis for claims, and China has been investing heavily in Antarctic exploration and research.

Argentina has few friends likely to support their claim. Relations with the UK and the US have never fully recovered since the Falklands War. Relations with Chile have always been strained. Argentina’s military is now much weaker relative to the UK than it was at the time of the Falklands War, but they still claim the Falkland (Malvinas) and South Georgia, both of which are under UK administration. Argentina might want to have China on their side.

Cuban Migrant Interdiction

A good Samaritan notified Sector Miami watchstanders of a migrant vessel about 10 miles east of Sunny Isles, Florida, Jan. 8, 2023. The people were repatriated to Cuba on Jan. 16, 2023. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

I don’t normally post press releases about migrant interdiction. It is a routine dirty job, with little reward, but something the Coast Guard does virtually every day. Just wanted to post the statistics below, that I lifted from a press release about a recent repatriation, to show the current trend to much higher frequency of interceptions.

Since Oct. 1, 2022, Coast Guard crews interdicted 4,962 Cubans compared to: 

  • 6,182 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2022
  • 838 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2021
  • 49 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2020
  • 313 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2019
  • 259 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2018
  • 1,468 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2017
  • 5,396 Cuban Migrants in Fiscal Year 2016

WMEC 210s and Webber class FRCs tend to be the workhorses of this effort, supported by aviation assets of both the Coast Guard and partner agencies.

For perspective, it is still nothing close to the Mariel Boatlift, 15 April and 31 October 1980, when 125,000 Cubans and 25,000 Haitians made it to the US.

“Global Piracy Incidents Fall to Lowest Level in Decades” –gCaptain

USCGC Mohawk sails alongside a Nigerian navy ship in the Atlantic Ocean, Aug. 22, 2022. Mohawk was on deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Africa area of operations. (Jessica Fontenette/U.S. Coast Guard)

gCaptain reports,

“Incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery attacks last year fell to the lowest recorded level in almost three decades…”

While incidents are up in Southeast Asia, there has been a notable drop in incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, where the Coast Guard has been actively engaged in capacity building.

“The Gulf of Guinea saw a continued and much needed reduction is attributed to an overall decrease of pirate activity, with the number of incidents falling from 35 in 2021 to 19 in 2022.”

Off Somalia there has been both a sustained counterpiracy effort and allied patrols to interdict arms bound for rebels in Yemen.

“For a fourth year in row, there were no incidents of piracy or armed robbery by Somali-based pirates…”

 

“Could the LCS fleet be getting a new mission?” –Navy Times

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MARINETTE, Wis. (Dec. 6, 2018) The future littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15) conducts acceptance trials on Lake Michigan, Dec. 6, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Marinette Marine/Released)

Navy Times reports,

“… Congress is tasking U.S. Southern Command with studying the feasibility of permanently assigning four to six LCSs to the combatant command.”

Is this likely?

Frequently nothing comes of these Congressionally mandated studies, but I suspect this may happen because it would complement the plan to replicate the 5th Fleets international unmanned effort, Task Force 59, in 4th Fleet.

What will not change?

Assigning up to six LCS to 4th Fleet probably would not increase the number of Navy ships underway in the SOUTHCOM Area of Operations (AOR). As the post points out, LCS are already routinely assigned to SOUTHCOM’s 4th Fleet. Typically, there is at least one and normally two doing drug interdiction with an embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.

Navy combatants are typically deployed less than a third of the time and underway less than 25% of the time, so six would be translate to no more than two regularly deployed. Of course, the Navy could temporarily assign other LCSs to 4th Fleet.

All the LCSs that I have heard of operating under 4th Fleet have been Freedom class monohulls like the Billings pictured above. These ships are based Jacksonville. I would not expect their homeport to change.

What might change?

4th Fleet wants to be the Fleet of Innovation. For evaluating advances in Maritime Domain Awareness, they have the unique advantage of a full time, highly motivated opposition force that is always testing their capabilities in the form of drug smugglers.

Having four to six LCS permanently assigned to 4th Fleet would provide a continuity of experience that the current system does not allow. That continuity would likely enhance both their law enforcement operations and allow progressively more complex experimentation. The vessels might be provided with better accommodations for the Law Enforcement Detachments and additional facilities for detainees and storage of seized contraband. They might operate more frequently with embarked Coast Guard airborne use of force helicopters.

V-Bat from Martin UAV

While they have had their problems, LCS are uniquely suited for operating unmanned systems. This might include operations in support of unmanned surface vessels like Saildrones and small unmanned aircraft like V-Bat.

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel operates alongside U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 29, during Digital Horizon 2022. (Sgt. Brandon Murphy/US Army)

Continuity in 4th Fleet operations might also extend to disaster response and IUU fisheries enforcement, both of which might benefit from use of unmanned systems.

Not called for the study, but a Navy oiler operating in 4th Fleet would be a real plus. The Freedom Class LCSs have relatively short range and can quickly run out of fuel if operated at high speed. An oiler might also make operating Webber class WPCs in the Eastern Pacific more practical.

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention.

“Navy’s Digital Horizon exercise showcases power of ‘mesh networks,’ AI” –Defense News

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel operates alongside U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 29, during Digital Horizon 2022. (Sgt. Brandon Murphy/US Army)

Defense News reports on 5th Fleet’s “Digital Horizon” exercise.

“We have done a lot of work with AI previously, and we’ve done computer vision, we’ve done anomalous behavior detection, we’ve done AI-enabled [command and control], but we’ve done all of those separately,” the commodore explained. “At Digital Horizon, for the first time ever, we did that together on a single stack, and that’s all integrated on a single pane of glass.”

They have been trying a number of new systems, “10 of which are being operated in 5th Fleet for the first time.” We got a look at a portion of this exercise earlier, “Task Force 59 Launches Aerial Drone from Coast Guard Ship in Middle East” –NAVCENT. Also, among the systems they tested was V-Bat UAS.

There is also confirmation here that a similar effort will be going into 4th Fleet (Latin American/Caribbean Waters); that it will involve partner nations; and that it will look at IUU fishing as well as drug interdiction.

Fortunately, it looks like Coast Guard personnel and assets have been intimately involved in this effort and it looks like it will benefit our Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) efforts.

(Will the Coast Guard’s next class of ships be USV tenders?)

“Navy to establish additional unmanned task forces inspired by Task Force 59” –Defense Scoop

GULF OF AQABA (Feb. 13, 2022) The U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class cutter USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) sails near a U.S sail drone explorer during the International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express (IMX) 2022, Feb. 13, 2022. IMX/CE 2022 is the largest multinational training event in the Middle East, involving more than 60 nations and international organizations committed to enhancing partnerships and interoperability to strengthen maritime security and stability. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. DeAndre Dawkins)

Defense Scoop reports:

“The Navy plans to stand up additional unmanned task forces around the globe modeled after Task Force 59 in the Middle East, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told reporters Saturday…“We’ve demonstrated with Task Force 59 how much more we can do with these unmanned vehicles — as long as they’re closely integrated together in a [command and control] node that, you know, connects to our manned surface vehicles. And there’s been a lot of experimentation, it’s going to continue aggressively. And we’re going to start translating that to other regions of the world as well,” Del Toro said during a media roundtable at the Reagan National Defense Forum.”

The report goes on to mention 4th Fleet and Oceana specifically, both regions of intense interest to the Coast Guard in regard to drug interdiction and Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing respectively.

This could be a big boost to our Maritime Domain Awareness. In the Eastern Pacific Drug Transit Zone we might need uncrewed surface vessels with passive acoustic sensors since the targets of interest are poor targets for radar and optical sensors. That could lead to practical experience that could improve our ASW capability.

Chinese F/V Attempts to Ram USCGC James –AP

In this photo made available by the U.S. Coast Guard, guardsmen from the cutter James, seen at background right, conduct a boarding of a fishing vessel in the eastern Pacific Ocean, on Aug. 4, 2022. During the 10-day patrol for illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing, three vessels steamed away. Another turned aggressively 90 degrees toward the James, forcing the American vessel to maneuver to avoid being rammed. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Hunter Schnabel/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

The Associated Press is reporting,

“…a heavily-armed U.S. Coast Guard cutter sailed up to a fleet of a few hundred Chinese squid-fishing boats not far from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Its mission: inspect the vessels for any signs of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing…But in this case, the Chinese captains of several fishing boats did something unexpected. Three vessels sped away, one turning aggressively 90 degrees toward the Coast Guard cutter James, forcing the American vessel to take evasive action to avoid being rammed.”

Of course there is much more to the story.

Coast Guard Los Angles Looks at MQ-8C

Picked this up off the Coast Guard Aviation Association’s Facebook page. A post by U. S. Coast Guard Los Angeles.

Today, members from Sector Enforcement travelled to Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, Calif. to discuss the possible use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to support Coast Guard missions. Pictured is the Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Is the Coast Guard looking to buy MQ-8C? It is not unlikely, the Navy wants to exercise these assets in an operational environment. Cutters doing drug interdiction are almost perfect for them. This is more likely looking at an opportunity for a Navy Detachment to deploy with a cutter than that the Coast Guard is looking to buy MQ-8C.

The MQ-8C should be able to search a much larger area than the Scan Eagles we are using now. The four National Security Cutters in Alameda have room for one of these in addition to an H-65 and Scan Eagle. There are also two WMEC 210 on the West Coast that might use these, but I would expect to see Scan Eagle on the WMECs before Fire Scout, but it is a possibility.

The First two OPCs are coming to San Pedro, hopefully, beginning next year. They also have ample aviation space, so perhaps they are a possibility as well.

This could be a win-win.