Post written by Cmdr. Dave Ramassini, Executive Officer, Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.
Aloha from the deep Pacific Ocean from the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.
As we now approach the 100th day of our current patrol, we have shifted gears once again from war-gaming with our Department of Defense counterparts in Exercise Northern Edge 2011 to being back on patrol protecting America’s natural resources and patrolling for search and rescue. We’ve left Alaska and the Bering Sea behind and are now steaming off Hawaii in the 14th Coast Guard District’s area of responsibility patrolling the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and high seas hundreds of miles northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. The crew is elated to be basking in the warm Hawaiian sun; even if it is while standing a taut watch scanning the horizon out on the bridge wing or conducting topside maintenance to remain in top shape for the next patrol order that may flash across our message board or a distress call that may come across our radios.
During the trip from Alaska to Hawaii we kept a keen eye on the weather forecast and for high seas drift net vessels and the ghost nets they sometimes leave behind. Drift net vessels use gill nets that can span 30 to 40 miles in length. These “curtains of death” kill every creature that gets caught in them in addition to the targeted fish species. An unsustainable amount of marine life is caught up in these nets and discarded. “Ghost nets” are those driftnets that have been lost or discarded by fishing vessels. They indiscriminately kill multitudes of marine mammals that get tangled in the floating and invisible traps. These driftnets also capture turtles, seabirds, albatross, anemones and other bottom dwelling creatures. With an increasing number of illegal, unregistered and undocumented drift netters operating in the North Pacific chasing limited amounts of ocean biomass, the national security cutter is the cop on the beat in these far of corners of the ocean.
Hawaii’s fisheries represent a $690-million commercial and recreational industry filled with migratory species like tuna and swordfish. Driven by water temperatures, fishers depart the Hawaiian Islands and venture quite a distance in pursuit of their prize and some do it in fishing vessels that would not pass muster in Alaska. Our mission prevents death and losses to the industry from unseaworthy vessels, ensures a level playing field for those who make their living fishing and protects the health and long term viability of the fishery itself.
On this patrol, we’ve partnered with Coast Guard Cutter Galveston Island, an Island Class patrol boat, and have also teamed up with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officer who brings a wealth of local knowledge and experience to the collective enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations that pertain to the various fisheries and marine sanctuaries surrounding these pristine islands.
Tactically, the partnership with Galveston Island is a powerful one. Bertholf is able to offer the patrol boat fuel, groceries, laundry and manpower while capitalizing on the patrol boat’s local law enforcement experience. This greatly extends the traditional range of operations for the patrol boat which normally patrols nearer shore in our layered security or defense in depth construct. Bertholf and Galveston Island were able to conduct a surge operation covering an astounding 300,000 square miles and boarding nearly half of all fishing vessels encountered far offshore.
In addition, Bertholf brings high tech sensors and a C4ISR (command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) suite that allows us to identify and, when necessary, vector our small boat or partner vessels to conduct inspections of fishing vessels with histories of neglect for safety and/or fishing regulations or who may have embarked on an unsafe voyage or even a voyage without a U.S. master. You see, in order to harvest the resources out of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the captain of the fishing vessel must be a U.S. citizen. Our hope is that we will find all in order aboard, but such is not always the case.
Inspecting commercial fishing vessels for survival equipment like distress signals, life rafts, and life jackets as well as EPIRBs, or electronic position indicating radio beacons, is also part of what we do – aiding or taking the search out of search and rescue! We do this so that when search and rescue is necessary, the tools of the trade to help us locate those in distress remain on hand and serviceable. Just like any other industry, any money that can be saved is profit; unfortunately skimping on these lifesaving essentials is not a risk-reward equation we can tolerate in one of the most hazardous industries remaining in our country. Thus, we enforce the regulations to ensure safety gear is on hand when fishers venture out in this regulated commercial industry.
Bertholf’s capability and operational flexibility has now been tested from South America to the Bering Sea in the full range of missions including drug interdiction, defense readiness and living marine resource enforcement; the optimally-crewed national security cutter continues to prove highly mission effective across the spectrum of Coast Guard operations.