Freedom of Navigation off Venezuela

Orthographic map of Venezuela centered on Caracas
Controlled territory in dark green.
Claimed territory in light green.
From Wikipedia, Author: Addicted04

Perhaps significantly for the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, Navy Times is reporting that the Navy has been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations off the Venezuelan coast in response to excessive claims not in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

A command official said the mission was undertaken “to challenge Venezuela’s excessive maritime claim of security jurisdiction from 12 to 15 nautical miles along its coastline and prior permission requirement for military operations within the Exclusive Economic Zone, which are contrary to international law.”

These are waters where Coast Guard cutters conduct law enforcement operations. If Venezuela wants to make a show of opposing US operations in these waters, it would be a lot easier for them to take on a 210 that a DDG or even an LCS.

“New Normal” in the Eastern Pacific?

A Pacific Area news release (reproduced at the end of the post) concerning a change of command aboard USCGC Waesche while at sea, along with the captions of the accompanying photos, show how drug interdiction operations are changing to deal with COVID-19. If you don’t have it on your ship, the best way to avoid it, is to stay underway.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean, April 20, 2020. Waesche is deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Dave Horning.

Waesche was underway for 90 days, apparently without a port call, replenishing underway. In the photos there is an indication of at least two underway replenishments from USNS Laramie (T-AO-203) an MSC oiler, on April 20 and on May 23. There is a good chance there may have been more.

This probably would not have been possible prior to the Navy’s surge of additional assets to the Forth Fleet for law enforcement.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean, May 23, 2020. Waesche is deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Gordon.

Waesche in turn, replenished the Webber Class USCGC Terrell Horne (WPC-1131) on several occasions over an unspecified period. This is more evidence of the wide ranging operation of Webber class cutters, particularly in the Pacific Area.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) conducts an astern fueling at sea (AFAS) with the Coast Guard Cutter Terrell Horne (WPC 1131) while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean during surface action group (SAG) operations, May 11, 2020. The cutters conducted multiple astern fueling at sea (AFAS) evolutions and one underway replenishment (UNREP) for food stores, which extended operations beyond normal patrol leg lengths for the Terrell Horne without foreign port calls by providing supply and logistics needs at sea, and protecting the crew from coronavirus and ensuring sustained Coast Guard operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo.


Alameda Coast Guard cutter conducts change-of-command ceremony during transit home from counterdrug deployment

News Release

June 4, 2020
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Alameda Coast Guard cutter conducts change-of-command ceremony during transit home from counterdrug deployment

The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol
The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol
Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts a change-of-command ceremony during their transit home following a 90-day counterdrug patrol Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean
Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Coast Guard Cutter Waesche conducts counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) held a modified change-of-command ceremony Thursday while anchored in the San Francisco Bay.

Capt. Jason H. Ryan relieved Capt. Patrick J. Dougan as commanding officer during the ceremony.
 
The change-of-command ceremony is a historic military tradition representing the formal transfer of authority and responsibility for a unit from one commanding officer to another. The event reinforces the continuity of command and provides an opportunity to celebrate the crew’s accomplishments.

The crew conducted the ceremony following a 90-day counterdrug patrol, stemming the flow of illicit narcotics trafficked across international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean amid the coronavirus pandemic.
 
Waesche coordinated efforts with the Coast Guard Cutter Terrell Horne and used their unmanned aerial system to disrupt criminal networks’ vital smuggling routes.
 
The crew self-quarantined for 14 days off the coast of California prior to the start of their patrol to ensure their health and safety. Instead of making international port calls, the crew took on fuel, food and supplies during replenishments at sea with the U.S. Navy.
 
Ryan reported to Waesche from the 7th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Miami, where he served as the Enforcement Branch chief. Ryan oversaw the Coast Guard’s enforcement of U.S. laws, from the protection of marine resources to drug and migrant interdiction efforts in the Southeast U.S and the Caribbean basin. 
 
Following the change of command, Dougan reported to the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Command in Alameda, where he will serve as Pacific Area’s chief of operations. 
 
“Waesche has been successful because Captain Dougan provided the vision and leadership that allowed the crew to flourish.” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander, Pacific Area, who presided over the ceremony.

Dougan served as Waesche’s commanding officer from June 2018 to June 2020 and supported Coast Guard operations throughout the Eastern Pacific by conducting two counterdrug patrols. The crew seized more than 6,000 pounds of narcotics under Dougan’s command worth an estimated wholesale value over $200 million.
 
Dougan also oversaw an eight-month in-port maintenance period for the installation of a small unmanned aircraft system and reinstallation of fabricated parts to the main reduction gear worth a total of $15 million.
 
“This crew has faced extraordinary challenges over the last two years, and faced every one head on with vigor and a can-do spirit,” said Dougan. “Leading change is hard. Changing momentum is hard. It takes focused effort, perseverance and involved leadership at all levels. Fortunately, the Waesche crew has all three and then some.”

Six Navy Ships in 4th Fleet

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

Having watched the US Naval Institute News’ Fleet and Marine Tracker for some time, I am a bit surprised to see six ship assigned to Fourth Fleet, inspite of the on going COVID-19 problem. Six ships is only 2% of the Navy’s 296 “battleforce” ships (Note, the 3 Mayport based Cyclone class patrol craft that sometimes assist in drug enforcement are not counted among the 296), but it is far more than we typically see in the area. Unfortunately the USNI site gives us no information about what type ships are deployed or where they are. (Pacific or Caribbean?) 

This is the first solid evidence I have seen that the Navy is actually going to carry through on their stated intention to surge assets for drug enforcement. There were four ships reported in the area on April 13, also an unusually high number. There were six reported on April 6. March 30, there were two. March 23 there was only one. Prior to that it was ususally one ship, on rare occasions two, sometimes none. 

Supposedly additional aircraft and other assets are also being assigned to support the ships.

“U.S. Coast Guard Could Face A Narco Submarine Epidemic In 2020” –Forbes

LPV (Low Profile vessel) incercepted by Stratton (WMSL-752) in Eastern Pacific, Aug. 27, 2018. It had three outboard motors. Ref dvidshub.net

Forbes has a short post suggesting we may see a spike or at least a continuation of the high level of self propelled semi-submersible activity in 2020. The article is by H I Sutton, who’s blog, Covert Shores, is on my recommended blog list.

Sutton has come to suspect that use of these vessels has become a status symbol among drug smugglers. There is also a suggestion that we might expect more of them bound for Europe.

I would note that movement from Brazil to Africa, crossing where the Atlantic is at its narrowest, might make sense as well.

“”Narcosubmarine” a First for Europe -Spanish Officials” –Marine Link

Marine Link reports.

“The discovery of a submarine carrying 3,000 kg (3.3 tons) of cocaine off the coast of Spain marks a “historic” turning point in the battle against drug trafficking, Spanish authorities said on Wednesday.”

That looks like an awful long way for a Self Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS), about 4,000 nautical miles. Have to wonder if the goods were not shipped first to Africa and perhaps the SPSS was built there? Alternately could the SPSS have been transported part of the way by a larger vessel?

NarcoSPSStoSpain

Webber Class Cutter Robert Ward Gets Another Pacific Drug Transit Zone Bust

The Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) is shown shortly after mooring for the first time at its homeport at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oct. 31, 2018. The Robert Ward is the second of four new Fast Response Cutters to be stationed in San Pedro, which will help to protect the people, ports and waterways of the region and maintain security for the global supply chain and critical infrastructure within California. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Brandyn Hill)

Below is a fairly routine press release. I would not normally reproduce these, because there are other places where the information is already available, but this is a bit unusual, in that one of the busts was made by a Webber class WPC, USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130), the first Webber class to make a drug bust in the Eastern Pacific Drug Transit Zone. Apparently they are at it again.

She had seized 3,000 pounds of cocaine in mid-July, that was brought into San Diego  by Steadfast (WMEC-623). At the end of August she returned to her homeport, San Pedro, bringing in another 2,800 pounds. Now she has taken another 1,500 pounds.

This is the new norm.

Incidentally, it is well over 3000 miles from San Pedro to the Transit Zone. Seventh District WPCs are actually a lot closer.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District PA Detachment San Diego
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment San Diego
Office: (619) 278-7025
After Hours: (619) 252-1304
PA Detachment San Diego online newsroom

Coast Guard offloads more than $92 million worth of cocaine in San Diego

 The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard B-Roll footage by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Giles)
 Coast Guardsmen prepare bails of cocaine to be offloaded from the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in San Diego, October 16, 2019. The crew aboard the Alert offloaded approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) Bales of cocaine lie stacked under the deck of a suspected smuggling vessel in October interdicted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) A suspected smuggling vessel drifts in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean after being intercepted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in October. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Editors’ Note: Click on images and video above to download full-resolution version.

SAN DIEGO — The Coast Guard offloaded more than $92 million worth of seized cocaine in San Diego Wednesday.

The cocaine, worth more than $92 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents four suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions by the crews of three Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late July and early October by the following Coast Guard cutters:

  • Alert (WMEC-630) was responsible for two cases, seizing approximately 4,000 pounds of cocaine
  • Robert Ward (WPC-1130) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,500 pounds of cocaine
  • Seneca (WMEC-906) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,400 pounds of cocaine

Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are involved in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with allied and international partner agencies play a role in counter-drug operations. The fight against transnational organized crime networks in the Eastern Pacific requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions to prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys throughout the country.

“I am extremely proud of this crew for doing their part to keep these dangerous drugs off the streets,” said Cmdr. Tyson Scofield, Alert’s commanding officer. “The Eastern Pacific Ocean is a challenging environment, especially on a ship that is in her 50th year of service, yet this crew persevered to disrupt the illegal flow of narcotics that fuels instability in Central and South America. The counter-drug mission is as important now as it has ever been, and these brave men and women can return home after a 69-day patrol knowing they made a difference.”

The Coast Guard increased the U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy. During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by allied, military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the actual boarding, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guardsmen. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 11th District headquartered in Alameda.

The Alert is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Astoria, Oregon. The Robert Ward is a 154-foot fast-response cutter homeported in San Pedro. The Seneca is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Boston, Massachusetts.

-USCG-

The Other Prize Winning USNI Coast Guard Essays

At least for a little while, the three prize winning US Naval Institute Coast Guard Essays are available on line, and they are available whether you are a member or not. 

I did a separate post on the First prize winner earlier. The other two are linked below.

    “Rethink Coast Guard Priorities”—2nd Prize, By Lt Noah Miller, USCG
    “Guard the African Coast”—3rd Prize, By LCdr Stuart J. Ambrose, USCGR
Both are thoughtful efforts, well worth the read.
Lt Miller makes the case for devoting more assets to fisheries enforcement even at the expense of decreased drug enforcement. I think he has a point, particularly in regard to the Central and Western Pacific.
“The Western and Central Pacific region is extremely remote, so it is difficult to detect potential incursions and even more difficult to respond in a timely manner. However, tuna fisheries are present in these waters, and they are among the most valuable pelagic fisheries in the world.”
LCdr Ambrose tells us why the Coast Guard should be engaged in Africa.

USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

A Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward crew member inspects and prepares to test suspected contraband seized from a suspected drug smuggling boat in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2019. Commissioned March 2, 2019, Robert Ward’s interdiction marks the first drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific Ocean by a Fast Response Cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A recent press release suggests that we will be seeing new, different, smaller ships engaged in drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone. This could be precedence for a new kind of operation. I will only quote a part of it.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.

Six of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have had a problem having enough ships on scene to take advantage of all the intel available. I have long suggested that the FRCs might be used in the Eastern Pacific, possibly with a supporting vessel. The Navy used one of their Cyclone class PCs for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific in 2018, confirming that the use of these smaller vessels was probably viable.

I had really expected Atlantic Area to do this first, since they have so many Webber class in the Seventh District (19, soon to be 20 FRCs), and they got them first (since 2012). Still the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone is a Pacific Area show, perhaps that is why it is PACAREA, using the Robert Ward, only the second West Coast CONUS FRC, commissioned little over four months ago, that took the initiative.

It looks like the Steadfast may have provided some support to the Robert Ward. This might have been facilitated by the fact that Steadfast is also a PACAREA asset.

Hopefully, if there were no unanticipated problems, this will be the start of a pattern of successful FRC deployments to the transit zone. To take full advantage of the concept, we really need Atlantic Area participation. They have far more assets and are actually closer to the transit zone. Excluding FRCs in the 14th and 17th Districts (Hawaii and the Western Pacific and Alaska) PACAREA has only four WPCs. They could maintain perhaps one FRC in the Transit Area continuously, while LANTAREA could maintain at least three and probably more.

Something we really should look at is, what is limiting the endurance of the vessels to five days? For a vessel of this size, it should be more like ten days. Feedback on the post linked above, suggest they are limited by “their very small dry-stores and refrigerator units, and the crew’s laundry.” Perhaps a ShipAlt is in order.

“Exclusive: ACLU Alleges Coast Guard Detained and Abused Fishermen” –The Atlantic

Photo source: ACLU

The Atlantic reports on a suit filed by the ACLU against the Coast Guard. I will make no comments on the merits. This is not the first time Coast Guard prisoner detention procedures have been questioned.

If the ACLU wins this case it could adversely effect our ability to perform the drug interdiction mission. This criticism is not going to go away. Any thing we could do to dull the criticism would probably be helpful.