Coast Guard JRCC watchstanders coordinate Pacific rescue efforts

DMA Hawaii
Story by Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal, Defense Media Activity – Hawaii News Bureau

JOINT RESCUE COORDINATION CENTER, Hawaii – U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders operating out of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center coordinated a rescue operation after receiving a distress call May 2 at approximately 8:30 a.m.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen Lt. Jason Hagen, JRCC command duty officer, Lt. Craig Dente, JRCC command duty officer and Operations Specialist 1st Class Andrew Lincoln, JRCC operations unit controller were on watch during the distress call.

Falcon, a Venezuelan fishing vessel, reported that a Chinese fishing boat had caught fire and was sinking approximately 1,500 nautical miles East of the Big Island of Hawaii. Two of the 11 crewmembers suffered from second and third degree burns and on its own, the Venezuelan ship’s crew was not properly equipped to handle the situation.

The JRCCs search and rescue capability allowed the watchstanders to react and provide assistance in the effort despite the distance.

U.S. Coast Guard Operations Specialist 1st Class Andrew Lincoln, 14th Coast Guard District Command Center operations unit controller, monitors vessel traffic using the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) system within the Joint Rescue Coordination Center's area of responsibility throughout the Pacific region at the JRCC May 8, 2014, in Honolulu. Lincoln helps monitor an AOR that spans more than 12 million nautical miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)

U.S. Coast Guard Operations Specialist 1st Class Andrew Lincoln monitors vessel traffic using the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) system within the Joint Rescue Coordination Center’s area of responsibility throughout the Pacific region at the JRCC May 8, 2014, in Honolulu. Lincoln helps monitor an AOR that spans more than 12 million nautical miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)

“The JRCC has an expansive area of responsibility [AOR] that covers a little more than 12,000,000 million nautical square miles,” Hagen said. “We rely on a lot of DOD resources such as aircraft and vessels and merchant vessels in the area who belong to the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue [AMVER] system.”

The AMVER system is a voluntary partnership involving foreign and U.S. vessels. The names of the ships and their positions are tracked in the system so those who work in the JRCC can see who may be near a distress scene to help.

After communicating with Falcon, JRCC members were able to evaluate the next steps to take in the rescue.

“An immediate medical evacuation was required with this mass casualty that [Falcon] found,” Hagen said. “We called our duty flight surgeon and got some medical advice and passed that along to the fishing vessel Falcon.”

The flight surgeon identified what treatment was required and what steps should be made to help provide medical aid to the Chinese fishing vessel’s crew.

“The duty flight surgeon offered a treatment plan,” Hagen said. “Everything from how to dress the wounds to offering intravenous hydration, O2, pain relievers, and antibiotics, all of which the fishing vessel falcon had in very limited supply on board.”

The JRCC Coast Guardsmen used the AMVER system capability to see what other vessels were in the area to provide support to the situation.

“Luckily we found a nearby tanker vessel that was about 100 miles away that had a surplus of supplies on board,” Hagen said. “[The vessel] later rendezvoused with falcon and passed along some additional medical supplies which helped stabilize the situation.”

The JRCC helped coordinate the U.S. Air Force deployment of Airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. as part of a pararescue search and rescue effort to help with the extraction of the injured.

“It’s definitely an inter-service and interagency coordination,” Hagen said. “We can’t do it alone and in this case it was a great use of not only international engagement with the falcon that was a Venezuelan fishing vessel, but also with the U.S. Air Force. It was a solid partnership.”

Dente attributes training he received to the missions’ success.

“Watchstanders in JRCC Honolulu complete nearly 4 months of dedicated training prior to qualifying at their watchstation,” Dente said. “This training conditions us to be able to manage and respond to any conceivable event of maritime distress in JRCC Honolulu’s expansive SAR Region.”

Hagen gave praise to the Venezuelan crew who were the first on scene.

“The Falcon crew did a fantastic job,” Hagen said. “A lot of credit goes to them, they were the first on scene. Had the Falcon not been there it’s hard to say how this case would have turned out.”

Nine crew members that were aboard the burning Chinese fishing vessel survived the event but two succumbed to their injuries underway. The survivors were able to receive further medical aid once transported to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

“We offer our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of those who lost loved ones,” Hagen said.

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