The waters outside of Port Angeles, Wash. have been busy with Coast Guards (yes, plural) for the last few days. Yesterday, the people of Seattle saw ships from the Coast Guards of Japan, Russia and Canada joining the U.S. Coast Guard cutters at the piers downtown at Sector Seattle following two straight days of operations. They were all a part of Pacific Unity 2009, an exercise of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum.
Pacific Unity 2009 had been going on since Sunday, but the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum itself has been going on a lot longer than that. The North Pacific Coast Guard Forum (NPCGF) started in 2000 as a venue to foster multilateral cooperation through sharing of information on combined operations, exchange of information, illegal drug trafficking, maritime security, fisheries enforcement, and illegal migration. Currently membership of the NPCGF includes agencies from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States.
The first Forum was held in Tokyo in 2000 and has followed an alternating semi-annual cycle of technical expert’s meetings and principals summits since. The NPCGF has had success in both combined operations and fisheries law enforcement. . In 2007, USCGC Boutwell, homeported in Alameda, CA, in cooperation with the Japanese, Canadian and Chinese governments, seized six vessels engaged in illegal high-seas driftnet fishing.
We (the U.S. Coast Guard) regularly contribute a High Endurance Cutter to participate in the annual summer combined operations with its NPCGF partners. This year it it is the CGC Rush is heading overseas to participate. Keep an eye out for more on that trip!
Between the two full days of operations the ships were out on the water just outside of Port Angeles, along with observers, conducted different operations. Exchanging ideas and techniques to increase the capabilities of all the nations involved.
The CGC Henry Blake conducted ATON operations with the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Provo Wallis. They exchanged crew members and worked on both Canadian and American bouys that they had brought along for the purpose.
I was lucky enough to spend some time aboard the Japan Coast Guard vessel Yashima and out on one of their small boats learning how they do boardings. They were very careful with me until they realized that I wasn’t going to get seasick, then it was off to the races. It was fascinating to compare and contrast the way they did things and the way we do. There were a lot more similarities than differences I found.
Boardings and ATON weren’t the only action of the two days. Oscars (that’s what we call training dummies) were tossed into the water by one service and then rescued by another to try out the SAR capacities of the participants. It really was fascinating to see people from such different cultures come together for a common goal.
It is also interesting to note that this is the NPCGF includes a number of countries that have a vested interest in the Arctic, and there has been a lot of conversation between the members attending about the Arctic. Captain Vakin of the Russian Coast Guard vessel the Vorovskiy talked with me about the U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers, telling me how impressive he thinks they are and how the Russian Coast Guard should model their icebreakers to be like them. There was a lot of talking, information exchanging, and a lot of laughter over the course of the meetings between the countries. So even though all the operations on the water were important the chance to meet and converse with eachother was just as big a benefit to the members participating in the Forum. It is easier to understand someone when you have sat down with them face to face and shared sea stories and ideas with them. It seems that sea stories cross many languages and cultural barriers, and so does a serious dedication to getting the job done.
The NPCGF is an example of countries coming together for a goal that is bigger than any of the individuals involved. It is about saving lives, protecting the seas, and about creating a net that will keep all the nations involved safe.
This will be my farewell post here in the CG Compass, as I have reported to Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach and will be getting down to business in the command center there (if you check the blogroll, my new unit has a blog!).
Building and launching this blog has been one of the coolest, most challenging experiences of my time in the Coast Guard, and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who helped me do it, who read along with me as I got it up and running, and who continue to read the Compass today. The Coast Guard has given me more opportunities in the last 5 years than I think many people get in a life time.
-LT Anastacia Visneski Thorsson