JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Valiant returned to their homeport in Naval Station Mayport Friday following a 10-week deployment to the Florida Straits and Windward Passage in support of Operation Southeast Watch.
During the patrol, Valiant and other Coast Guard assets worked jointly with Customs and Border Protection to detect, interdict and rescue individuals attempting to illegally enter the United States transiting through the Florida Straits.
“I’m extremely proud of the important humanitarian mission done by each of our 80 crew members over the past two months,” said Cmdr. Adam Chamie, commanding officer of the Cutter Valiant. “ We’re excited to be back in Jacksonville reunited with our loved ones for the 4th of July holiday. They are the ones who truly sacrificed during this patrol.”
The interagency unified effort resulted in the safe and humane repatriation of 284 illegal migrants, comprised of 230 Cuban and 54 Haitian nationals, that were rescued from risky transit on the high seas. Valiant and other Coast Guard cutters patrolled the Florida Straits and Windward Passage to prevent overloaded migrant vessels from taking to sea, a dangerous practice that risks the lives of hundreds of men, women and children each year.
For 39 days, the cutter’s crew embarked, processed and cared for the Cuban migrants including 38 who were on board for more than two weeks awaiting repatriation. The Haitian migrants were interdicted south of St. John, Virgin Islands, and were repatriated to Cap Haitien, Haiti.
The Coast Guard Cutters’ at-sea migrant interdictions were a part of Operation Southeast Watch, which is an interagency, and international, mission to prevent and respond to illegal maritime migration in the Caribbean Sea and Florida Straits. Valiant also embarked an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in support of counter-narcotic and migrant interdiction operations in the Windward Passage.
Other patrol highlights include commemorating Memorial Day with a crew exchange with Cutter Eagle transiting the Eastern seaboard for its summer training deployment. Eagle is the only tall ship in government service. The 295-foot cutter is primarily used as an underway classroom for Coast Guard Academy cadet and officer candidates as part of their leadership development and on-hands seamanship training. For most of Valiant’s crew, it was the first experience of old-school sailing tradition handling the Eagle’s more than 200 lines that control the sails and yards, in addition to more than 22,000 square feet of sail and five miles of rigging.
On a port call in Key West, Valiant’s crew volunteered their off-duty time helping with maintenance projects aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham (WHEC-35) Maritime Museum. The 79-year-old Cutter Ingham is the only Coast Guard Cutter afloat today to receive two Presidential Citations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.
Valiant is an 80-crewmember, 210-foot medium endurance cutter that operates in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for the commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area headquartered in Portsmouth, Virginia. Its missions include search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, defense readiness, and ports, waterways, and coastal security.
Valiant and 26 other MEC’s are slated for replacement by a new class of cutters. The Offshore Patrol Cutters will operate more than 50 miles from land, carrying out the Coast Guard’s maritime security and safety missions in support of national interests. The OPC will be an economical, multi-mission ship, providing pursuit boat and helicopter capabilities, and interoperability with other military and federal partners, superior to the cutters they will replace. Equipped with modern sensors, the OPC will provide the enhanced surveillance necessary to detect threats far from U.S. shores and meet the demands of the Coast Guard’s homeland security, search and rescue, law enforcement, and other vital missions.