Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Annie R. B. Elis, public affairs officer deployed on Coast Guard Cutter Forward.
Under the direction of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forward is currently conducting maritime security and safety exchanges with countries along the west coast of Africa as part of African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership mission.
During a recent visit to Sierra Leone, the cutter and its crew served as the primary AMLEP platform in support of the Navy’s 6th Fleet. This particular visit focused on the commercial fishing industry, a critical resource at the center of Sierra Leone’s economy that is threatened when illegal fishing occurs in the country’s open waters.
For one week in June, a joint U.S. Coast Guard and Sierra Leone law enforcement team set out to combat those unlawful activities by enforcing laws and regulations to counter illicit maritime activities.
“Eighty percent of Sierra Leoneans live on fish – they provide on fish, they get their source of protein from fish, and so protecting the marine resource is a big plus for the country,” said Victor Kargbo, fisheries officer for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Sierra Leone.
A ten-member law enforcement team made up of Sierra Leone officials from the Maritime Wing, Police Marine Department, Maritime Administration and the Ministry of Fisheries spent a week aboard the Forward to exchange training and maritime security tactics.
The joint team patrolled the country’s territorial waters in search of illegal activity and conducted law enforcement boarding’s on fishing vessels. This mission serves as a great example of successful interagency partnerships that benefit the global maritime community by enhancing peace and stability.
“Sierra Leone forces demonstrated that they have the capability to enforce their laws and regulations to counter illicit activities in their waters. The interagency team within Sierra Leone is improving with each AMLEP operation and becoming a model for other West African countries. We are committed to working with the Sierra Leone, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy team to continue to build partner capacity,” said Mr. Phillip J. Heyl, Chief of Air and Maritime programs at U.S. Africa Command.
Sierra Leone’s patrol boats can safely patrol up to 25 nautical miles off the coast; however, most of the illegal fishing occurs about 200 nautical miles off shore. The Forward, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter, not only has the capacity to travel throughout the country’s territorial waters, but also has a law enforcement team with experience in responding to illegal activity on the high seas.
“When illegal fishermen deplete the natural resources, there’s less fish for fishermen who are observing good practices to catch and make money off of,” said U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Leslie Hunt, a boarding officer aboard Forward. “It’s important that they can get that money and those resources circulating through their own economy, and that’s what we’re trying to do out here.”
Throughout the week at sea, the joint team conducted six boarding’s on commercial fishing vessels and cargo ships, issued $250,000 in citations and escorted two ships back to port in Freetown due to violations.
During peak tuna season, many foreign boats fish in Sierra Leone waters without a permit, without the proper ratio of Sierra Leonean crewmembers, without an observer aboard or with improper net sizes – all four criteria are required by country law, said Kargbo.
“We don’t know what these boats are catching and we don’t know how they are catching it, so in terms of money and in terms of marine resources, we are losing greatly out here at sea,” said Kargbo.
“The presence of the United States Coast Guard and the Sierra Leonean boarding team aboard this boat has really deterred some of these illegal activities for these past few days, which is a big plus for the two countries,” said Kargbo.
The Forward’s deployment to Africa demonstrates the Coast Guard’s role in strengthening partnerships across the globe, to build peace, security and stability that support democracy and the security of global commerce.