The Long Blue Line: Operation “Relevant Ursa”–Bear training in West Africa

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Ensign Malia R.K. Hindle, United States Coast Guard Cutter Bear

During its most recent patrol, Coast Guard Cutter Bear diverted from an Eastern Pacific counter-narcotics patrol to support Operation “Relevant Ursa (Latin for bear)” in West Africa. Under the tactical control (TACON) of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, Bear quickly prepared for its 95-day deployment to support to the Coast Guard’s African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and U.S. Africa Command Combatant Commander’s Theater Security Cooperation objectives in West Africa.

Coast Guard’s 270-foot medium endurance cutter Bear underway in Africa. (Ensign Connor Brown, U.S. Coast Guard)

Bear last deployed to West Africa in 2005, serving under the Navy’s Sixth Fleet TACON following the 2004 Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security Conference held in Naples. In 2005, the cutter’s mission focused on fostering mutual commitments to regional stability, advancing multi-national interoperability, and deterring potential adversaries from North Africa to the Gulf of Guinea.

Bear set sail for West Africa with patrol orders to conduct joint operations with the partner nation of Cabo Verde. To prepare for its West Africa deployment, Bear embarked a Portuguese linguist, physician’s assistant, Pacific TACLET, and an aviation detachment. Following its 12-day transatlantic voyage, Bear arrived in Cabo Verde, a ten-island nation with a 155,000 square mile exclusive economic zone. The cutter embarked a Cabo Verdean Judicial Police officer to integrate with the crew and conduct joint law enforcement operations under the authority of our Cabo Verde partners.

Coast Guard law-enforcement personnel and maritime law enforcement personnel from Cabo Verde take a break on Bear’s helo deck. (Ensign Malia Hindle, U.S. Coast Guard)

Bear and its crew strengthened our partnership with Cabo Verde by exercising the bilateral agreement between the countries. These activities included law enforcement operations and table-top exercises with Bear, the Cabo Verde Maritime Operations Center, and the Atlantic Area Command Center. Bear’s law enforcement teams executed a robust professional exchange training program with the Cabo Verde officers to share procedures and tactics. With assistance from a Cabo Verdean Coast Guard officer, Bear showcased the cutter’s multi-mission capability early in the deployment, launching its small boat to free an entangled turtle.

Bear’s deployed HH-65 Dolphin during a search and rescue demonstration off the Cabo Verde coastline. (Lt.j.g. Silas Garrett, U.S. Coast Guard)

Bear’s personnel coordinated with the U.S. embassy in Cabo Verde, Cabo Verde’s Maritime Operations Center, Coast Guard liaison officers, and international media outlets to showcase the Coast Guard’s unique search and rescue capabilities. It performed a search and rescue demonstration off the coast of Praia, the nation’s capital. Bear’s helicopter broadcast a narrative of the evolutions to a live audience on shore, to include Cabo Verde’s minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, director of defense, and the U.S. ambassador to Cabo Verde. Through this demonstration, Bear and its crew provided a unique venue for senior leader engagement between the United States and Cabo Verde.

During its deployment, Bear’s teams strengthened the Coast Guard’s partnership with Cabo Verde and trained in countering illicit maritime activity, including counter-narcotics and illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. In the words of Bear’s Operations Officer, Lt. Chuck Wilson:

. . . the bilateral agreement between the United States and Cabo Verde allows the U.S. Coast Guard to support Cabo Verde in patrolling their waters, enforcing their laws at sea, and securing their maritime domain. Cabo Verde’s archipelagic waters have an expansive exclusive economic zone rich with resources. Other coastal states travel long distances to fish their waters. In order to protect the world’s food supply, it is imperative that all nations control illegal, unregulated, and unreported exploitation of ocean resources.

Bear’s over-the-horizon boat during Operation Relevant Ursa’s small boat operations. (Ensign Isaiah Green, U.S. Coast Guard)

Bear sailed as far north as Morocco, performing a three-day law enforcement boarding of a 280-foot motor vessel at sea, exercising the United States Panamanian Bilateral Agreement. Following the cutter’s trip to Morocco, Bear and its crew conducted three law enforcement boardings under the U.S.-Cabo Verde bilateral agreement, providing an opportunity for Bear’s law enforcement personnel and Cabo Verde shipriders to work as a maritime security team and counter illicit maritime activities.

Bear’s flight operations crew during Relevant Ursa’s helicopter drill. (Senior Chief Petty Officer Steven Bomentre, U.S. Coast Guard)

Bear also conducted daily training to enhance crew proficiency and partner nation capacity. The Cabo Verde shipriders engaged in various drills and exercises alongside Bear’s crew. They trained for surface use of force against non-compliant vessels and engaged air contacts through advanced weapons systems exercises. Bear conducted multiple scenarios using its 76mm weapons system and .50 caliber machine guns. With support from its embarked helicopter and aviation detachment, flight deck personnel trained for technical flight evolutions to include vertical replenishment, helicopter in-flight refueling, and day/night deck landing qualifications. The Cabo Verde shipriders also provided training through table-top exercises and professional exchanges discussing Cabo Verde law enforcement procedures and regional maritime security best practices.

Bear also worked with other agencies and mission stakeholders to combat transnational organized crime and build partner nation capacity in West Africa. These stakeholders included Joint Interagency Task Force South, United Kingdom National Crime Agency, Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre-Narcotics, U.S. Embassy Praia, Cabo Verde Coast Guard Maritime Operations Center, U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet and the European Fisheries Control Agency.

The Coast Guard has performed joint training missions with international partners since World War II. Bear’s successful mission with the Cabo Verdean Coast Guard demonstrates the importance of joint training operations to the service and its national and international partners.

Bear crew members rescue a sea turtle trapped in fishing nets. (Petty Officer 1st Class Kimberly Jackson, U.S. Coast Guard)

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