Coast Guard cutter returns from innovative South Pacific law enforcement patrol

HONOLULU — The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Rush, a 378-foot high endurance cutter home ported in Honolulu, returned home last week after a ground-breaking six-week law enforcement patrol through the South Pacific.

The Rush’s crew conducted joint law enforcement operations with three embarked Republic of Kiribati law enforcement officials under a new diplomatic ship rider agreement recently signed between the U.S. and Kiribati governments.

The bilateral agreement has drawn attention at the highest level of the Department of Homeland Security for its success and was mentioned by the Coast Guard Commandant in a recent “State of the Coast Guard” address.

In one instance, Rush crew members and the Kiribati officers boarded a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel suspected of violating the terms of their license to fish in Kiribati waters. As a result of the boarding, the Kiribati government arrested the master, and seized the vessel and its catch of more than 22,000 pounds of fish, assessing fines and penalties exceeding $700,000.

A second joint boarding resulted in the voyage termination of a Kiribati-flagged tanker vessel operating without a bunker license. A bunker license authorizes a vessel with maximum fuel capacity of 10,500 gallons or more to transfer fuel to another vessel. The tanker is suspected of operating within Kiribati waters and bunkering to vessels engaging in illegal fishing. The case is under ongoing investigation by the Kiribati National Police.

Rush crew members also conducted two high seas Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission WCPFC boardings, including the first-ever WCPFC boarding conducted by the United States of a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel pursuant to this international boarding scheme.

The WCPFC is a regional fisheries management organization whose objective is to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The fishery is valued at more than $3 billion annually and over half of the global tuna catch is caught from this area, which stretches across the Pacific Ocean from the south coast of Australia to the Bering Sea.

“The new ship rider agreement between the U.S. and Kiribati represents a positive step forward in increased enforcement cooperation to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region that threatens the sustainability of these valuable fish stocks,” said Cmdr. Mark Young, the Coast Guard’s Chief of Enforcement for the Fourteenth District.

“The fantastic results of Rush and the embarked Kiribati ship riders clearly demonstrates to others in the region our resolve to eliminate the illegal activities and unsustainable practices that threaten our collective resources.”

The Rush is one of two 378-foot high endurance cutters based in Honolulu and was launched in 1968 and has a crew of 20 officers and 148 enlisted Coast Guard men and women.

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