“Obangame Express 2022 Promotes Cooperation To Fight Sea Crime” –ADF Magazine

Members of the U.S. Navy share critical care techniques with the Senegalese Navy during Obangame Express 2022. U.S. NAVY

I got a reminder that the Obangame Exercise 2022 had concluded (Brazil sent an OPV), so I went looking for some information about possible Coast Guard participation. I found none, although I feel sure at least some special teams were involved.

This report from AFRICOM’s African Defense Forum does include an interesting note,

One important element of the exercise is practicing the use of SeaVision, a maritime domain awareness tool that helps professionals in the operations center track vessels at sea. Created in 2012 by the U.S., this tool is used by about 25 African countries to monitor their waters.

Is this system system something the Coast Guard uses? Is it used by our friends in Latin America? SE Asia? Sounds interesting.

Copenhagen Declaration, Blue Justice Initiative

We are seeing what appears to be growing international cooperation to curb Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and with it, other forms of maritime criminal activity frequently associated with it. A basis for this cooperation is found in the non-binding UN Copenhagen Declaration, Blue Justice Initiative. 48 Nations have signed on to the declaration. It is basically a letter of intent to cooperate. It is reproduced at the end of the post. Notably it has not been endorsed by the US, Canada, UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, India, or China, but this is very important to many smaller nations. I would think the US Coast Guard would be all-in on this. It certainly does not preclude the kinds of bilateral agreements the Coast Guard has with dozens of nations.

How did I learn about this Declaration?

NORTHCOM’s on-line magazine, The Watch, reported on a March 2022 meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM). This led me to look for more information on this organization. 

Below is the CRFM report on the meeting. Additional comments follow.


Belize City, Friday, 18 March 2022 (CRFM)—The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) hosted a Technical Meeting on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry this week. It marked an important milestone in the region’s efforts to fortify the region’s response to this very challenging and costly problem, through coordinated action at both the national and regional levels, with the support of the Government of Norway and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Blue Justice Initiative.

The CRFM, its Member States, and partner agencies both at the CARICOM and international levels committed to advancing their collaboration using modern digital technology, to strengthen the region’s response to illegal fishing and transnational organized criminal activities, such as drugs, human and small arms trafficking, trade in contraband goods, document fraud and forgery, tax crimes, and money laundering, which use commercial and recreational fishing as a cover for their activities.

Last October, during a high-level meeting of CRFM Ministers, twelve (12) Member States signed the International Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the Global Fishing Industry (also known as the ‘Copenhagen Declaration’). They also endorsed the Blue Justice Initiative, which supports developing countries in operationalizing the Copenhagen Declaration, aimed at “promoting a sustainable and fair Blue Economy for all, that is free from fisheries crime.”

The CRFM and CARICOM IMPACS convened the technical meeting of senior fisheries and maritime law enforcement officers to identify priority actions to strengthen regional and international cooperation to combat and eradicate IUU fishing and transnational organized crime in the fisheries sector. The event marked an important milestone for the Caribbean region in collectively combating the scourge of crime connected with the fishing sector.

Over 90 participants from 15 Member States of the CRFM and representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat, the CRFM, CARICOM IMPACS, the Regional Security System (RSS), UNDP and the Government of Norway participated in the virtual session.

The meeting featured a diverse array of speakers who provided participants with insights on the Blue Justice Initiative and ‘Copenhagen Declaration, the UNDP Blue Resilience Project and its use of digital technology and institutional cooperation, tools and techniques to detect and analyze fisheries crime, and a general overview of fisheries crime in the Caribbean. Participants engaged in interactive sessions, as they contributed to charting the way forward.

In addressing the gathering, Hon. Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour, and Chair of the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, said: “The fight globally has increased against IUU fishing and organized crime, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Member States of the CRFM continue to honor our duty… It is our quest in the Caribbean to partner with all international agencies to ensure that we reduce criminal activities when it comes to the Blue Economy. We intend to work with regional and international partners and other friendly governments such as Norway… because every Member State in the global community must play an important role.”

CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton noted the seriousness and impacts of illegal and criminal activities in the fisheries sector and expressed the CRFM’s appreciation for Norway’s commitment to the sustainable use of ocean resources, through the Blue Justice Initiative and the Copenhagen Declaration. He thanked the Government of Norway and the UNDP for supporting the region in its efforts to help address this intractable problem.

Important Dates:

15 October 2018:

The Copenhagen Declaration was initially adopted by 9 countries: Faroe Islands, Ghana, Indonesia, Kiribati, Namibia, Norway, Palau, Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka.

10 December 2020:

Several Ministers responsible for Fisheries from the CARICOM / CRFM Member States took part in a virtual High-Level International Blue Justice Conference that was convened by the Government of Norway. The main purpose of the Conference was to promote and advance political support for the non-binding Copenhagen Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the fishing industry.

 21 May 2021:

At the Fifteenth Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the CRFM, Ministers discussed the issues and recognized the need for Member States to cooperate with other affected countries to improve understanding and knowledge of the problem, identify countermeasures, and build capacity to prevent, deter and eradicate IUU fishing and transnational organized crime in the fishing industry, in the region and globally. The Ministers issued Resolution No. MC 15(6) of 2021, documenting their position.

 4 October 2021:

During a special ministerial meeting, several Ministers from the Caribbean Community responsible for Fisheries, the Blue Economy and related matters, delivered official statements endorsing The International Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the Global Fishing Industry (also known as the ‘Copenhagen Declaration’). They also affirmed their support for the Blue Justice Initiative, established by the Government of Norway to support implementation of the declaration. (View the proceedings and country statementshere.)

Twelve (12) CRFM Member States, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and The Turks and Caicos Islands, signed the Copenhagen Declaration on this occasion.


This in turn led me to a CRFM report of a 5-8 April Ministerial Meeting of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), an organization of 79 member states. Seeing this degree of widespread interest, I had to look up the declaration.


THE DECLARATION

We, the Ministers of Benin, Chile, Costa Rica, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Ghana, Greenland, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Kiribati, Liberia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Philippines, São Tomè and Principe, Scotland, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and Uruguay;

Encourage other Ministers to support this non-legally binding declaration.

Note the recommendations and the outcome of the 2nd International Symposium on Fisheries Crime held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia 10–11 October 2016 which was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime at the occasion of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice during its twenty-sixth session in Vienna 22–26 May 2017.

Recognize that our countries are dependent on the sea and its resources and the opportunities it holds for the economy, food and well-being of our population and we are determined to support a healthy and thriving fishing industry that is based on fair competition and the sustainable use of the ocean.

Are committed to work towards the fulfillment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals particularly in relation to Goal 14 on “Life Below Water” and Goal 16 on “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.”

Are convinced that there is a need for the world community to recognize the existence of transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry and that this activity has a serious effect on the economy, distorts markets, harms the environment and undermines human rights.

Recognize that this transnational activity includes crimes committed through the whole fisheries supply and value chain which includes illegal fishing, corruption, tax and customs fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, document fraud and human trafficking.

Recognize further the inter-continental flow of illegal fish products, illicit money and human trafficking victims in transnational organized crime cases in the global fishing industry and that all regions of the world need to cooperate when investigating such acts

Are convinced that inter-agency cooperation between relevant governmental agencies is essential at a national, regional and international level in order to prevent, combat and eradicate transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry,

Are also convinced that there is a need for international cooperation and that developing countries are particularly affected.

Recognize the particular vulnerability of small-island developing states and other Large Ocean Nations of the impact of transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry.

Are also convinced the need for continuous support on the highest level and the necessity for awareness raising on these issues through events such as the International FishCrime Symposium.

Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) Doing Coast Guard Work off West Africa

ADRIATIC SEA – (Feb. 19, 2022) The Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) sails the Adriatic Sea, Feb. 19, 2022. Hershel “Woody” Williams is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national interests and security in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Fred Gray IV/Released)

The Navy League’s on-line magazine, “Seapower,” has a post, “USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Completes Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security Patrol,” reporting on the activities of this newly arrived 6th Fleet asset, the “first warship permanently assigned to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.”

And what was this 784 foot (239 m) ship doing?

In March, the joint U.S. and African maritime team interdicted an illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing vessel operating in Sierra Leone’s economic exclusive zone.

In April, as part of the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership, the joint team, led by Cabo Verde, worked in coordination with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics, INTERPOL and Cabo Verde’s national Maritime Operations Center to conduct a compliant boarding of a Brazilian-flagged fishing vessel, which led to the seizure of approximately 6,000 kilograms of suspected cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $350 million.

The US Navy regularly hosts Coast Guard teams in the Caribbean or while operating off Central and South America. US Coast Guard cutters have operated with West African nations previously. Coast Guard teams embarked on US Navy ships have trained with West African nations, but this may be the first time US Coast Guard teams, operating from a US Navy ship, have participated in law enforcement operations on the behalf of a West African nation.

Thetis Escorts FRCs Transatlantic

USCGC Thetis (WMEC 910) is moored behind USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) and USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) in Mindelo, Cabo Verde, on Dec. 29, 2021. Mindelo served as the cutters’ first stop after crossing the Atlantic Ocean before continuing the escort of the fast response cutters to the Mediterranean en route to their new homeport of Manama, Bahrain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

Below is a press release regarding USCGC Thetis’ escort of Fast Response Cutters Emlen Tunnell and Glen Harris across the Atlantic, enroute Bahrain, where they will become part of the PATFORSWA. Contrary to the title on the release, this was not a counter-narcotics deployment. Appropriately enough, they did have a SAR case enroute.

There are some notable differences between this transit and the previous one. The previous escort by Hamilton, apparently made a more northerly transit and Hamilton and the FRCs parted company in the Mediterranean. Hamilton made several port calls in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

This transit, perhaps to avoid the North Atlantic in Winter, actually crossed the equator, replenishing in Fortaleza, Brazil Dec. 22/23. They apparently stayed only one day, and then sailed NE to Mindelo, Cape Verde arriving Dec. 29, 2021. They were, unfortunately, underway over Christmas. Fortaleza to Mindelo is only 1477 nautical miles, one of the shortest ways to cross the Atlantic. The FRCs should have been able to make the crossing with ample fuel reserves, without refueling from Thetis.

There is no mention of Thetis entering the Mediterranean or doing any “capacity building” anywhere other than Mindelo. Their SAR case was Jan. 4.

Thetis’ odyssey started in Key West Nov. 18 and ended Jan. 26, 2022.

I expect we will hear about the arrival of the two WPCs in Bahrain very soon.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jared Phillips speaks with Lt. Mary Mills on the bridge of USCGC Thetis (WMEC 910) in the port of Fortaleza, Brazil, on Dec. 23, 2021. Phillips served as the navigation evaluator while leaving the port and communicated with the cutter’s combat information center through a sound-powered phone. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area

USCGC Thetis returns home from 68-day counter-narcotic deployment

USCGC Thetis fast response cutter escortUSCGC Thetis returns home from 68-day counter-narcotic deploymentUSCGC Thetis returns home from 68-day counter-narcotic deployment

USCGC Thetis returns home from 68-day counter-narcotic deploymentUSCGC Thetis in BrazilU.S. Coast Guard, partners conduct joint rescue of migrants in Atlantic

Editors’ Note: To view more or download high-resolution imagery, click on the photos above.

KEY WEST, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis’s crew (WMEC 910) returned to homeport in Key West on Wednesday, after a 68-day transit escorting the Coast Guard Cutters Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) and Glen Harris (WPC 1144) across the North Atlantic en route to their new homeport in Manama, Bahrain.

Thetis’ crew worked alongside NATO Allies and interagency partners in the region while transiting in the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet area of responsibility.

During the patrol, Thetis’s crew received a report from Spain’s Las Palmas Rescue Coordination Center of two overloaded migrant rafts taking on water. Thetis, Glen Harris and Emlen Tunnell crews worked together to rescue 103 migrants from overloaded and unseaworthy vessels and recovered two deceased migrants. The rescued individuals were provided food and medical care prior to being transferred to a Royal Moroccan Navy frigate.

“While escorting two new cutters across the Atlantic, we responded to a distress call and quickly transitioned to our service’s core mission of search and rescue,” said Cmdr. Justin Nadolny, the commanding officer of Thetis. “Working alongside a Moroccan ship, we were able to rapidly respond to those in distress. The case reinforced the importance of joint operations and reaffirmed the U.S. Coast Guard’s presence in the region to ensure the safety of life at sea. I am exceedingly proud of our professional and highly capable team. The crew of all three ships showed remarkable vigilance and adaptability. This case highlighted the Coast Guard’s ability to operate worldwide to protect and save those in distress on the ocean, along with our ability to work seamlessly with international partners to accomplish a shared mission.”

Thetis’ crew strengthened international partnerships in various ports, hosting military and Coast Guard leaders in Fortaleza, Brazil and Mindelo, Cape Verde. Thetis’s crew also embarked a Cape Verdean Coast Guard officer aboard for two weeks. The professional exchange was mutually beneficial, providing U.S. Coast Guard members with a deeper understanding of maritime activity in the region while passing on valuable lessons to our foreign allies.

Prior to departing Cape Verde, U.S. Ambassador Jeff Daigle visited Thetis. The ambassador’s visit showcased the importance of the maritime partnership between the U.S. and Cape Verde while demonstrating the commitment to the shared goal of global maritime security and stability on the African continent.

Thetis deployed with a MH-65 helicopter and aircrews from Air Station Miami and Houston to increase their capabilities. The aviation detachment and cutter crew worked together to conduct day and night flight operations and practice rescue hoists.

Thetis is the first 270-foot medium endurance cutter to escort fast response cutters across the Atlantic in support of the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia mission. These cutters are the third and fourth to be deployed to the region, with the final two scheduled to be delivered to Bahrain in the spring of 2022.

Thetis is a 270-foot Famous-class cutter homeported in Key West with a crew of 104. Its primary missions are counter-drug operations, migrant interdiction, enforcing federal fishery laws and search and rescue in support of U.S. Coast Guard operations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

“Predicting illegal fishing activity is tip of the iceberg for mature AI technology” –BAE

BAE Systems technology applies machine learning analytics to automate low-level detection of activities of interest, such as fishing, from available data streams.

Below is a company press release, but it is an interesting one, with relevance to Coast Guard missions. The Obangame Express Exercise is one the Coast Guard has participated in, in the past. More info on the exercise here and here.


BAE Systems technology applies machine learning analytics to automate low-level detection of activities of interest, such as fishing, from available data streams.

The old “finding a needle in a haystack” analogy doesn’t begin to articulate the challenge associated with illegal fishing detection and identification. While a ship may be larger than a needle, the ocean is certainly larger than your biggest haystack. Add the need to not only find the ship, but determine its recent activities, anticipate future movements, and compare them with all other ships in the area — and do it in near real-time using open source data feeds.

At the Obangame Express event, which is the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa, BAE Systems’ Multi-INT Analytics for Pattern Learning and Exploitation (MAPLE) as a Service, MaaS for short, was integrated with SeaVision, the U.S. Navy’s premier tool for unclassified interagency and coalition maritime data sharing. SeaVision is a maritime situational awareness tool that ingests maritime vessel position data from various government and commercial sources and simultaneously displays them on the same screen in a web browser.

“Military organizations use illegal fishing as a model application due to the unclassified nature of the available data,” said Neil Bomberger, chief scientist at BAE Systems’ FAST LabsTM research and development organization. “Successful detection of illegal fishing activity helps address a serious challenge and highlights another use case for our mature artificial intelligence technology.”

Giving depth to data

While manual analysis of individual vessel tracks is possible, it gets exponentially more challenging and time-consuming for large numbers of vessels. BAE Systems technology applies machine learning analytics to automate low-level detection of activities of interest, such as fishing, from available data streams. This enables analysts to quickly answer time-sensitive questions, prioritize manual data analysis activities, identify higher-level trends, and focus on decision-making instead of manual data analysis.

During the event, BAE Systems’ MaaS technology processed streaming data and automatically detected vessel behavior events that SeaVision displayed as an additional data layer to support user-friendly and timely analysis. The technology provides full visibility into the data to allow the users to check whether the detected behavior warrants further investigation. This helps build trust in the automation and supports additional analysis.

Decades in the making

BAE Systems’ FAST Labs maritime sensemaking capabilities are rooted in artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. Backed by nearly two decades of development, their behavior recognition and pattern analysis capabilities continue to show significant utility in real-world environments.

The cloud-based artificial intelligence technology was matured via work on the Geospatial Cloud Analytics (GCA) program. In the months since the successful event, the FAST Labs organization has continued to develop and mature its autonomy portfolio. Elements of its autonomy technology have proven successful in multiple domains including air, land, and sea.

“This successful event delivers on the promise of mature artificial intelligence technology – easy to integrate, incorporating trust, and providing fast and actionable information in a real-world scenario,” continued Bomberger. “The event showcased how our artificial intelligence technology can be deployed in a cloud environment, integrated with a government tool, and used to address relevant maritime activities.”

“Danish Navy Frigate Kills 4 Pirates in Gulf of Guinea Anti-Piracy Mission” –USNI

Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

The US Naval Institute reports an incident off the West African Coast in which a Danish Frigate, the HDMS Esbern Snare (F342), while engaged in a counter piracy operation, observed a suspicious vessel and attempted to investigate. This led an exchange of gunfire.

“By the evening, Esbern Snare was close enough to launch rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) carrying Danish naval special forces personnel and called on the boat to halt and permit boarding, the news release said. When the boat refused to respond to the call, warning shots were fired, with the pirates responding by firing directly at the personnel in the RHIBs. A brief firefight then ensued, in which no Danish personnel were hit but five pirates were shot, with four of them killed and one wounded.”

The USCG cutter operate in this area periodically, doing “capacity building.” Its not impossible a cutter will find itself in a similar situation.

The imbalance of the results of the firefight, 5-0, which probably would have looked fairly even on paper, speaks volumes for the equipping and training of the Danish boat crew and boarding party.

A Cutter X for Nigeria Built in Turkey

Dearsan OPV 76 design

Naval News reports a contract has been reached for Turkish shipbuilder Dearsan to construct two offshore patrol vessels for the Nigerian Navy.

The OPV 76 is 78.6 meters long and 11 meters wide. The draft of the ship is 2.9 meters and the displacement is about 1200 tons. It can reach a top speed of 26 knots, and has a range of 3000 nautical miles with economical speed. The ship can be operated by a crew of 46.

These are pretty close to what I envisioned as Cutter X, but with more weapons.

They are attractive little ships, and better armed than most. You can see the 76mm gun on the bow. The 40mm gun is sited on the aft end of the superstructure. MBDA Simbad RC launch systems for Mistral short range surface to air missiles are positioned on the starboard aft and port forward corners of the superstructure. .50 caliber machine guns mounted in remote operating stations occupy the other two corners.

If my research is correct, the four diesel engines will provide at least 16,000 HP (12,000 kW).

I don’t see davits, so I presume it will have a stern ramp for launching boats. The flight deck appears to be raised enough to allow “garage” space for boats and perhaps other systems.

None of the photos provide a good view from aft looking forward, but it appears unlikely to include a hangar for an embarked helo. There might be room for a UAS hangar.

Within the context of Nigeria’s neighborhood, the Gulf of Guinea, these will be seen as relatively powerful warships. They will join two former USCG 378s and two Chinese built corvettes as the principle combatants of the Nigerian Navy. The area has had a history of piracy and maritime robbery, but Nigeria has been making progress in curbing the problem. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, a nation with huge potential, and it has demonstrated regional leadership in participating in UN peacekeeping missions. The US Coast Guard has been making an effort to help, and it appears to paying off.

I see that the Nigerian Navy also operates four former USCG 180 foot buoy tenders.

a Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

“NIGERIA RECORDS LOWEST LEVEL OF PIRACY SINCE 1994” –Baird Maritime

The Nigerian Navy frigate NNS Thunder, former USCGC Chase (Photo: International Chamber of Shipping)

Baird Maritime gives us some good news out of Nigeria,

The trend of reduction in piracy and armed robbery in Nigerian waters has continued, with the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reporting in its third quarter 2021 account a 77 per cent decrease in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period last year.

Nigeria reported four incidents in the first nine months of 2021, in comparison to 17 in 2020 and 41 in 2018. This represents a 77 per cent decrease in incidents between 2021 and 2020, and a 95 per cent reduction from 2018. The IMB also reported a 39 per cent reduction in piracy and armed robbery incidents in the Gulf of Guinea.

I think perhaps the US Coast Guard may have had something to do with this. They now have two former USCG WHECs, Chase and Gallatin, transferred in 2011 and 2014 respectively. USCGC Thetis was there in 2019 for Exercise Obangame Express. Coast Guard teams also operated from Navy vessels.

Royal Navy Deploys Two OPVs for Five Years to No Base in Particular

We have deployed cutters to the Western Pacific for months at a time, and PATFORSWA kept its 110s operating out of Bahrain for years, but the Royal Navy seems to be doing something different and I believe remarkable.

Naval News reports they are sending a pair of River Batch II class ships, HMS Tamar and HMS Spey, well beyond the Suez. It sounds all very 18th Century Star Trek, “Our Five Year Mission, Proceed into the Indian and Pacific Oceans and act in the Queen’s Interests.” (No, not a real quote.)

If these ships were in the US Coast Guard we would see them as MECs. They are slightly larger and faster than the 270s, but are not as well equipped in some respects. They are armed only with a 30mm gun and no helicopter hangar. I don’t believe they have any ESM/ECM. Their crew is also considerably smaller, smaller in fact than that of a 210. (I have seen various numbers for the crew size, 34 in the infographic above, 58 in Wikipedia, 46 as reported below, but all well below the 75 common on a 210 or the 100 typical of a 270.)

“Each ship is crewed by 46 sailors, with half the crew trading places with shipmates from the UK every few weeks.”

The Royal Navy actually has considerable experience keeping OPVs deployed for long periods with austere support.

We might even see one of these helping with drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific, more likely they will be countering piracy and drug or arms trafficing in the Indian Ocean or capacity building in East Africa or SE Asia. Maybe we could make a multi-national Freedom of Navigation transit of the Taiwan Strait.

 

“SHOWING UP IS HALF THE BATTLE: U.S. MARITIME FORCES IN THE INDIAN OCEAN” –War on the Rocks

War on the Rocks has a good treatise on the growing importance of the Island nations of the Indian Ocean and why the US should take more interest. The author contends that while forming a new First Fleet Command, something the Navy is contemplating, would be a good start, there is much more that needs to be done, and the Coast Guard has an important part to play. The author mentions the Coast Guard fifteen times in the article. I have reproduced the portion of the article specific to the Coast Guard below, but read the entire article for context.

When USCGC Hamilton escorts the first two Webber class WPCs to Bahrain, hopefully Hamilton will have some time to do some capacity building in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps PATFORSWA will also be involved in a continuing effort.

A Coast Guard Initiative

Finally, Washington should look to its Coast Guard in maximizing its interactions with small island nations. While the Coast Guard plays a significant role in training Pacific island nations’ maritime forces, they are rarely seen in the Indian Ocean. As with the Pacific, the islands of the Indian Ocean, too, face similar non-traditional security issues as their primary challenges. Interactions between, and trainings conducted with, the Coast Guard and Indian Ocean island nations might carry more value at the operational and tactical level. Recognizing resource constraints and its limited capacity to deploy in the region, Coast Guard initiatives can come in the form of training and capacity building efforts. Many island nations such as Maldives, Mauritius, and Comoros have a coast guard tasked with both law enforcement and defense of their sovereign territories. Given the nature of their primary threats — such as illegal fishing, drug smuggling, and human trafficking — training with the U. S. Coast Guard will be a significant step forward for many of the island nations of the Indian Ocean. Such engagements could also help offset an overreliance on military trainings in Beijing, including interpretation of customary law and the U.N. Convention for the Law of the Sea. Chinese interpretation of customary and international laws at Sea are notably different than those of the U.S. and its allies.  However, these interactions should be extended to islands and littorals across the region, instead of limiting them to Sri Lanka and Maldives only.

The U.S. Coast Guard could potentially utilize some of its lessons and experiences from the Pacific in interacting with, and training, the islands of the Indian Ocean on a range of issues from law enforcement to surveillance to disaster response. Washington could perhaps borrow from its interactions as a member of the Pacific Quad, prioritizing engagements with island nations and their security concerns as a model for the Indian Ocean too. If the Coast Guard is to take on this additional mission, it will require additional resources, which may require a willingness to cut some Department of Defense resources previously devoted to ground wars in the Middle East and redirect them to the Coast Guard.

An Indian Ocean deployment leveraging all its maritime forces allows Washington to address two immediate concerns in the region. First, it would provide a singular node, or a specific agency, tasked with engaging with the region as a whole to bridge the gap resulting from the divided combatant commands. Second, a burden-sharing model with close partners and allies leveraging the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps aids the already extended U.S. Navy and its role in the Indian Ocean. This could help conceptualize a framework that allows Washington to deploy and engage its maritime forces in the region in a meaningful and, more importantly, an achievable way.