“Operation Kurukuru: USCGC Washington supports “noble cause” through teamwork” –D14 PAO

Below is a news release, quoted in full. A few points to note.

  • the huge area involved
  • Pacific Islanders need help to make this work
  • involvement of Australia
  • enforcement seems to be having an effect
  • Coast Guard is making a long term commitment

There is also information about the FRCs scheduled to go to Guam.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Contact: 14th District Public Affairs
Office: (808) 535-3230
After Hours: (808) 265-7748
14th District online newsroom

Operation Kurukuru: USCGC Washington supports “noble cause” through teamwork

Operation Kurukuru Operation Kurukuru USCGC Washington

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

Scattered clouds stretched across the sky, meeting the vivid blue Palauan waters on the horizon. The maritime law enforcement boarding team completes their final preparations on the fantail of the USCGC Washington (WPB 1331) as the small boat detail lowers the cutter’s ridged inflatable boat (RIB) into the water. Petty Officer 1st Class Ralph Pastore, Washington’s boarding officer, finalizes the details with the RIB’s coxswain, Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Reo and Seaman Duke Joseph of the Palauan Division of Maritime Law Enforcement. Their target is a long-line fishing vessel making way about a half-mile off the cutter’s port bow.

Washington’s crew was patrolling Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as part of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Operation Kurukuru, a coordinated maritime surveillance operation. The operation’s goal is to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Success depends on the ability of partners, like Palau and the United States, to work together.

“This is my second time coming down here and working with a Palauan shiprider,” said Pastore. “Last time I was able to get a good idea of how they work both on land and out here on the ocean so it makes the job easier”

The operation, targeting the multi-million-dollar IUU fishing, was conducted from Oct. 7 to 18, across 8.2 million square miles. To put in perspective, that covers an area the size of Russia, India, and Egypt combined. Assets and crews from multiple counties were involved including the Washington, an HC-130 Hercules airplane and crew from Hawaii temporarily based out of Tonga, and an intelligence specialist working out of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Center at the FFA headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands, where the joint operation was coordinated.

The 12-day operation saw around 132 sea days of active patrolling and 540 flight hours of maritime air surveillance. There were 131 total boardings both at sea and dockside, with only four violations found and no unknown vessels detected.

“The fact there were no unknown fishing vessels found with such thorough air surveillance converge and only four infringements imposed with such a high level of boardings is evidence that current regulations and law enforcement practices are working well with the four FFA operations leading the effort,” said the FFA Surveillance Operations Officer, Cmdr, Robert Lewis, seconded from the Royal Australian navy.

But what do those boardings look like? At sea, the team launches from the Washington and makes its way through the water to the fishing vessel. Upon boarding, the team’s interpreter speaks with the crew to ensure no human rights violations exist while Joesph talks to the master of the ship.

“I was looking for licenses, the fish log and also on deck we are looking for signs of catching sharks, shark fins, any parts of sharks, turtles and steel wires for fishing,” said Joseph after the boarding. “You’re not supposed to use steel wire for fishing.”

Kurukuru is a Japanese term meaning round and round. Fish are migratory animals and they annually travel throughout the Pacific providing an important renewable resource for Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). As with anything of value, there will always be actors who wish to cut corners and skirt laws. IUU undermines efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks, presenting a dire threat to many PICT’s efforts to protect these vital resources for generations to come.

“I think for us Palauans, our nation is small, and we don’t have enough people and manpower to protect our waters,” said Joseph. “The waters are very big, so with the help of the United States and working together we can protect the waters for the Palauan people for the future.”

Bilateral shiprider agreements are a key tool for the Coast Guard 14th District. The United States maintains 11 of these agreements with Pacific Forum countries. By embarking ship riders, Coast Guard crews are able to support allies in the region and work toward expanded security addressing regional challenges to peace, prosperity, and social inclusion. These agreements also provide a framework to build valuable relationships between Coast Guard and PICT counterparts.

‘We were able to establish a nice camaraderie, especially with the Palauan national living with our crew,” said Pastore. “A shiprider is always a plus to have for us because we are able to sit down and ask questions Coast Guard law enforcement normally won’t be able to.”

Operation Kurukuru is one of Washington’s last operational patrols before being decommissioned in December. A number of the cutter’s crew will transfer to the three new Fast Response Cutters (FRC) scheduled to replace the cutter and its sister ships, Kiska (WPB 1336) and the already decommissioned Assateague (WPB 1337). FRCs are some of the Coast Guard’s newest platforms and are equipped with the latest technologies. The first FRC arriving in Guam will be the Coast Guard Cutter Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1339).

“Having experience in the area of responsibility will be beneficial,” said Lt. j.g. Victor Broskey, the Washington’s executive officer. “There’s quite a few crewmembers slated to be on the commissioning crew who served in Guam before, so I think the Coast Guard has set us up pretty well for the first crew.”

This retention of crewmembers in the area means the lessons learned from joint evolutions such as the one conducted between the Washington’s boarding team and Joseph will carry over to the new FRCs, ensuring the goodwill developed by the crew of the Washington will remain relevant.

With the information Joseph gathered from the boarding, Palauan authorities will be able to inspect the long-line fishing vessel when it pulls back into port. Thus ensuring the master is following the Palauan law by matching his records and his fish hold, contributing to the overall success of the efforts between the United States and its partners in the region to combat IUU.

As is usually the case in the Pacific, a successful operation depends on the teamwork between partners. The crew of the Washington strives to cultivate these critical relationships and lay additional groundwork for future joint activities. The cutter’s motto is “our cause is noble,” and throughout the ongoing efforts, the crew lives up to this saying, ensuring success in the region long after this cutter is replaced by new ships bearing the famous racing stripe and serving Pacific communities.

-USCG-

“USCG’s Schultz on Halifax Forum, Budget, Pacific, Arctic” –Defense and Aerospace Report

Above is a Defense and Aerospace report interview with the Commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz. It is worth a look.

There is a lot here about what is going on in the Western Pacific and our response to China’s changing behavior. There is a lot of discussion about the Philippine Coast Guard which is apparently growing at a tremendous rate. There is also some discussion about other coast guards in South East Asia and the USCG’s place with “The Quad” (US, Australia, New Zealand, and France).

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

Philippines Awards Contract for Upgrade of Former WHECs

BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF-17), the former USCGC Boutwell.

Updates added below

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Philippines has awarded a PHP1.5 billion ($28.6M) contract to a South Korean firm for upgrades to their Del Pilar Class Frigates. These are the former cutters Hamilton, Boutwell, and Dallas.

“The project has an approved budget of PHP1.5 billion which will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippine Modernization Trust Fund. The upgrade seeks to enhance the ships’ combat management systems, electronic support and sonar capability to make it capable of operating with incoming and more modern naval assets like the two Jose Rizal-class missile frigates being completed by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.”

The AN/SPS-40 air search radar, SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare System, 25 mm Mk38 guns, and the Phalanx CIWS were removed before the vessels were transferred to the Philippines.

Presumably in addition to sonar, this upgrade will include torpedo tubes and Korean manufactured torpedoes (Update: apparently not–not included in this contract). The EW system will likely also include countermeasures. An air search capable radar like the Hensoldt TRS-3D Baseline D multi-mode phased array C-band radar being installed on the Jose Rizal-class frigates, to replace the AN/SPS-40 will almost certainly be included (Update: Sea Giraffe multi-role radar had been purchased from the US for this purpose, this is the same radar being purchased for the OPCs). Provision for anti-ship cruise missiles is a possibility, but at this point the full extent of modernization is not clear. I would assume the former WHECs will share some systems with the new frigates. 

“Coast Guard Ramps Up in Hawaii with 2 New Ships” –Military.com

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

Military.com reports that 14th district is getting a second National Security Cutter, the Future USCGC Midgett arriving on Friday, Aug. 16 (to be commissioned along with Kimball Aug. 24 in a rare dual commissioning) and a third Webber class, the William Hart.

It also discusses the Coast Guard’s increased activity in the Western Pacific and Oceana.

“It’s Time for a ‘Quad’ of Coast Guards” –Real Clear Defense

A Japan Coast Guard helicopter approaches an Indian Coast Guard patrol vessel during a joint exercise off Chennai, India, January 2018 (Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty)

Real Clear Defense has an article which first appeared in the Australian think tank Lowy Institute‘s publication “The Interpreter,” advocating greater cooperation between the Coast Guards of Australia, India, Japan, and the US.

“The so-called Quad group of Indo-Pacific maritime democracies – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is a valuable grouping, although it is still under utilized in many ways. One of the most effective ways that these countries could work together to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific would be through coordinating the work of their coast guard agencies.”

While India in particular, is adverse to committing to a military alliance, these nations share a commitment to a rules based international system.

Quadrilateral cooperation through the countries’ coast guards could provide an answer to this political problem. As principally law-enforcement agencies, coast guards can provide many practical benefits in building a stable and secure maritime domain, without the overtones of a military alliance.

Using ship-riders, this sort of cooperation could go beyond capacity building and uphold the norms of international behavior. It might lead to the kind of standing maritime security task force I advocated earlier. When coast guards are in conflict, having multiple coast guards on scene could insure that instead of a “he said, she said” situation, we could have a “he said, we say” situation that would show a united front against bullying.

Given Bertholf and Stratton‘s stay in the Western Pacific and Walnut and Joseph Gerczak‘s support of Samoa, which was coordinated with Australia and New Zealand, it appears we may already be moving in this direction.

 

USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrives in American Samoa on patrol

The crew of USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) prepare to moor at the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, Aug. 3, 2019. They will conduct a joint fisheries patrol with NOAA Fisheries and American Samoa Marine Police members. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

Below is a press release from District 14 (Hawaii). It suggest two things.

  • They are paying more attention to the threat of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing in the Pacific, and
  • They are exploring the limits of recently arrived Webber class “Fast Response Cutters” (FRC).

The Joseph Gerczak is based in Honolulu. The distance from Honolulu to Pago Pago by air is 2259 nautical miles (4184 km). That is less than the nominal 2500 currently being reported as the range for the class and less than the 2950 miles that was claimed for the class earlier, but that appears to leave little in the way of reserve. The nine day transit referred to also exceeds the nominal five day endurance of the FRCs.

The news release also indicates that the USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) is also in the area, so the Walnut may have escorted the FRC and may have refueled and replenished it underway as was done when Walnut provided underway replenishment for Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) for a 2200 mile transit to the Marshall Islands.

I would welcome any comments about how the operation was actually done. But could an FRC make the trip unrefueled? As I recall the 2950 nmi range claim was based on a speed of 14 knots. Transiting at a lower speed should increase range. How fast did they go? Nine full days, 216 hours would have averaged about 10.5 knots. Still nine days may have meant a short day at the start and another short day on arrival so it may have been closer to eight 24 hour days or about 192 hours total that would equal an average speed of a little under 12 knots. In any case it is likely the transit could have been made unrefueled with a reasonable reserve. Even if that were the case, CCGD14 probably kept Walnut close in case they ran into trouble. They are pushing the envelope.

America Samoa location. Author: TUBS

The news release (more pictures here):

—-

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrived in the Port of Pago Pago, Saturday.

The crew is participating in Operation Aiga to conduct fisheries law enforcement and strengthen partnerships in American Samoa and Samoa throughout August.

“It was a good transit, the longest we’ve conducted yet, nine days at sea and we’re proving the capabilities of these new cutters to operate over the horizon throughout the remote Pacific,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer of Joseph Gerczak. “This is the first time a Fast Response Cutter has come to Pago Pago. We’re looking forward to hosting our partners and the public during tours Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. here at the port.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to enforce U.S. federal laws and regulations in the territorial waters of American Samoa. Worldwide, tuna is a $7 billion dollar annual industry and roughly 70 percent of that tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific. These pelagic fish migrate and it is essential the U.S. and its partners protect the resource from illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Estimates place the value of IUU fishing around $616 million annually.

“After this port call, we will be working with NOAA fisheries and the American Samoa Marine Police to enforce fisheries regulations in the region while on patrol. Oceania countries adhering to the rule of law deserve and even playing field. Presence, partnerships, and regular enforcement can deter IUU fishing and safeguard these critical fish stocks,” said Provost.

The Coast Guard Cutter Walnut (WLB 205) crew will also be conducting a fisheries mission with shipriders from Samoa aboard to enforce sovereign laws in their EEZ and deter IUU fishing. This effort is being undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa transitions their organic patrol assets, upgrading their fleet. Both cutter crews will also respond to any emergent search and rescue needs in the area and seek out opportunities to work with partner nation assets.

The Coast Guard exercises 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum nations to help ensure regional security and maritime sovereignty.

“The U.S. is committed to supporting our allies and neighbors in the Pacific, which is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel-Class Fast Response Cutter homeported in Honolulu. It is one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet, replacing the aging 110-foot Island-Class patrol boats serving the nation admirably since the late 1980s. Three Fast Response Cutters will be homeported in Honolulu, the third arriving in August. Three will also be stationed in Guam and are to begin arriving there in 2020.

“Schultz: Coast Guard Expanding Western Pacific Operations” –USNI

USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750) crew members observe the stars from Bertholf’s flight deck as the cutter and crew patrol the South China Sea on April 21, 2019. US Coast Guard Photo

The US Naval Institute News Service is reporting,

KUALA LUMPUR – The U.S. Coast Guard will increase its presence and deployments to Asia – particularly around Oceania and U.S. Pacific territories – and test out a new operational deployment concept in the region, service head Adm. Karl Schultz told reporters on Thursday.

We have been seeing this happening. The Coast Guard has begun spending more time in and around the Western Pacific, particularly around US Western Pacific territories and Oceania.

The reference to use of a buoy tender as a mothership to support patrol craft operations looks like a test to see how useful the proposed basing of three Webber class cutters in Guam might be.

The Commandant suggested that the tender might partner with Australian, New Zealand, or Japanese vessels as well. He promised,

““In the face of coercive and antagonistic behavior, the United States Coast Guard offers transparent engagement and partnership,…”

There is no reason this should not work, hopefully it will lead to similar multi-unit operations in the Eastern Pacific drug transit areas where the Webber class could augment larger cutters.