Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Ferdinando
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Centeno hopped into the passenger seat of a 4×4 on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Along with his team, he headed south on a mission that would require networking, integrating into the community and some old-fashioned detective work.
“Conoces al dueño de este barco?” — Do you know the owner of this boat? — Centeno queried in Spanish after arriving at his target location, in an impromptu seaside meeting with a resident.
Centeno deployed to Puerto Rico with the Vessel Owner Outreach Group, a specialized, bilingual team attached to the Hurricane Maria ESF-10 Puerto Rico response. The group’s mission is to identify owners of boats stranded in Hurricane Maria, and offer them a no-cost option to salvage the vessels, to either return them or transport them for disposal.
Spanish speakers like Centeno are critical to the success of the outreach mission.
In addition, relationships between the group and residents are key when making connections between stranded vessels and owners. Local residents provide the group expertise and insight, and assist in spreading the word within their communities.
As Centeno spoke at the seaside pavillion, the local boat owner, who transported the Coast Guard in his vehicle to this locale, added his thoughts on how to find boat owners. Meanwhile, other residents stopped by to say hello, chat and provide leads.
In between these exchanges, Centeno was working the phone, connecting with his new leads and strategizing where to visit next on this island situated off the east coast of Puerto Rico.
The vessel owner identification process takes time, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Travis Rogers, who was leading the mission to Vieques that day, explained. Crews look up the vessel name, registration and hull identification number of the boats identified for removal.
But, perhaps a boat is not registered, or its information is no longer visible or accessible. The Vieques visit is an example of what happens in those cases where an owner has not been found: members of the Vessel Owner Outreach Group reach out to their contacts, and visit local marinas and other spots where these connections can yield positive outcomes.
Rogers points out that in these small boating communities the sentiment “everybody knows everybody” is strong. These cultural connections are vital for information gathering and relationship building. The Vessel Owner Outreach Group members understand the island’s culture and its communities, and speak the same language, both literally and figuratively, for mission success.
“We have a diverse workforce here at the ESF-10, and we have many Spanish speakers on our team, including members who are from Puerto Rico,” Rogers said. “We rely on Centeno and other Spanish speakers to do the essential work of communicating with vessel owners to those who might only speak Spanish or a bit of English.”
Having worked closely with many boat owners, and enjoying the support of many others on the island during the response, Rogers says that he, Centeno, and the entire ESF-10 command relate to another local sentiment: “Gracias Por Tu Cooperación,” Thank You For Your Cooperation.
To share information with the outreach group or request free ESF-10 assistance in moving a vessel in Puerto Rico that was displaced in Hurricane Maria, please contact the Vessel Owner Outreach Group at (786) 521-3900.