A quick look at the northern half of the Pacific Ocean on a map or globe shows one of the largest stretches of open-ocean in the world. The vast expanses of our oceans can be a daunting prospect for a mariner in distress, but also provide a potential advantage for a poacher engaged in illegal fishing.
So how does a coast guard type organization provide search and rescue and law enforcement coverage in such a vast body of water? For this region of the world, it is done in part through the maritime services of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum.
The forum, an international maritime coordinating body, is meeting this week in Vancouver, Canada, with U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp attending as part of the United States delegation.
Created in 2000, the Forum promotes information sharing and fosters international cooperative efforts relating to safeguarding international maritime commerce, stemming illegal drug trafficking, protecting fisheries, and deterring human smuggling.
The Forum membership includes coast guards and other maritime organizations from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States. Annually, member organizations from each of these nations meet in executive session to focus on issues affecting the North Pacific Ocean, participate in training and exercises, and conduct joint operations at sea.
“Each member organization provides an important piece to a challenging puzzle,” Papp said. “Independently, we cannot solve the problem, but together we can build a comprehensive solution.”
Now considered a model example of maritime cooperation, the Forum is built on a simple formula: all members voluntarily work equally toward solving shared problems and achieving mutual interests.
The cooperative nature of the Forum is most evident at sea where a joint fisheries patrol could easily involve a U.S. Coast Guard cutter with embarked Japanese law enforcement team operating in tandem with Chinese and Russian ships that are receiving aerial surveillance information from a Canadian aircraft.
“A true international cooperative spirit is represented in all Forum activities,” said Papp. “The problems we face are common to each Forum participant; therefore, each has an interest in bringing solutions to the table.”
Since no single country has the resources, authorities, or jurisdiction to provide effective oversight across the mission areas affecting the North Pacific Ocean, the Forum fills the necessary gap. Together, the organizations can pool ships and aircraft, and provide the required coverage. And by carrying embarked law enforcement representatives from other Forum nations in those ships, they have the authority and jurisdiction to enforce a wide range of law.
If the past 10 years of Forum successes are any indication, the future is great. Member organizations actively collaborate and seek new areas for partnership, while operational efforts continue to place greater coverage in a region that necessitates attention. Ultimately, the efforts happening far out at sea help each nation by curbing trans-national crime, sustaining fish stocks and promoting safe and secure global trade.
“What happens far out at sea impacts the U.S.,” Papp said. “We have to reach further off our shores and the Forum provides an effective way for the U.S. and other partner nations to meet this common need.”