Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Mendenhall, 11th Coast Guard District public affairs.
From interdicting drugs and migrants, to protecting America’s Exclusive Economic Zone from foreign fishing vessel incursions, protecting our borders is a national security imperative. As America’s chief agency for maritime security, the Coast Guard is on the leading edge of securing our nation’s borders. Southern California crews recently found themselves on the frontlines of securing our borders, setting the Coast Guard’s capabilities and partnerships in action.
The crews were called out when a container ship transiting along the California coast noticed a small, 30-foot boat about 10 miles west of Point Conception that appeared to be disabled, with several people aboard.
Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach’s command center launched a helicopter from Air Station Los Angeles while Coast Guard Cutter Blackfin, an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Santa Barbara, Calif., was diverted to the scene. When the helicopter and patrol boat reached the vessel, the crews found 14 passengers aboard the 30-foot boat, with many in poor condition.
“The individuals were happy to see us,” recalled Lt. j.g. Tony Gregg, commanding officer of Blackfin. The crew of Blackfin began transferring the stranded boaters onto the cutter using the cutter’s small boat, which proved to be an operation requiring sharp skill from the boatcrews.
“They were too cold and too tired to climb a ladder,” explained Gregg, “so we had to recover them two at a time. This required seven separate evolutions. Driving the small boat in 6-foot seas is hard enough. Combine that with making approaches and then notching into a moving cutter and you have one of the most complex evolutions the ship engages in.”
Once everyone was safely aboard Blackfin, the rescue operation turned to a border security issue, as the stranded boaters were not United States citizens. The Coast Guard performs a variety of demanding missions daily, and often they will overlap. This particular case called on Coast Guard crews to conduct search and rescue operations, as well as execute the mandate to keep our borders safe and secure.
Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Coast Guard Investigative Service met the Blackfin as it arrived at the pier in Santa Barbara Harbor, and the 14 people who were aboard the boat were taken into custody.
Partnerships between the Coast Guard and federal, state and local agencies are a vital link, enabling the safe and effective execution of a wide variety of missions. Along with the CBP agents who took the migrants into custody, Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol assisted in the towing of the boat, eliminating the possibility of pollution and potentially dangerous and expensive pollution response operations.
“This case highlights the challenges we face in dealing with smuggling operations,” said Gregg. “Fourteen people were lost at sea for days on a 30-foot boat until their position was reported to the Coast Guard. I consider this a great success for both the Coast Guard’s ability to partner with civilian, local, state and federal law enforcement and for the professionalism and expertise of Blackfin’s crew.”
The Coast Guard has a range of missions, responsibilities and operations, and this became evident as Coast Guard crews set out for a search and rescue mission turned border security operation. Their work, in conjunction with our partners, resulted in lives saved and a more secure maritime community. Blackfin and Air Station Los Angeles proved once again, where Coast Guard crews patrol, safety, national security and the rule of law follows.