Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast returns home from counter narcotics patrol

Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast file photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read.

Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast file photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read.

Astoria, Ore. – The crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-623) returned home Friday to Astoria after a 60-day counter narcotic patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

While patrolling international waters off the coast of Mexico and Central America, Steadfast’s law enforcement boarding teams intercepted and stopped eight separate vessels suspected of smuggling illicit drugs. The eight boardings resulted in the discovery and seizure of approximately 13,123 pounds of cocaine worth more than $200 million wholesale.

The 210-foot cutter deployed to the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the Joint Interagency Task Force South with the primary mission of detecting and interdicting illegal drug traffickers. During the deployment, Steadfast’s crew also performed a variety of missions including counter terrorism training, foreign engagements, humanitarian aid, and search-and-rescue operations.

Steadfast led an international training exercise with two Mexican Naval vessels in support of the North American Maritime Security Initiative. NAMSI is a collaborative maritime safety and security effort between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The three ships conducted communications drills, formation steaming, a mock vessel intercept and a personnel exchange.

“Working with the Mexican Navy was a great opportunity for all parties involved,” said Petty Officer First Class Derik Schaefer, an operations specialist aboard Steadfast. “Not only did we reinforce our individual skills, exercises like this strengthen the effectiveness of the agreements the United States has with its partner nations.”

The exercises proved to be valuable later in the patrol when the Steadfast and a Mexican Naval vessel worked together on a joint-interdiction of a suspected drug-smuggling boat.

Steadfast’s crew also conducted defense operation exercises off the coast of Southern California through scenario-based trainings with members of the Coast Guard Maritime Security and Response Team West. During the training scenarios, the teams worked together tactically inserting members of the Coast Guard law enforcement teams onto vessels of concern at sea.

In coordination with a middle school from Beaverton, Ore., Steadfast crewmembers deployed the Pacific Lotus, a small sailboat built by students at Cedar Park Middle School. The small sailboat launched was the product of a partnership between the Columbia River Maritime Museum and their education initiative with area schools. The Pacific Lotus is equipped with a solar powered GPS tracker and loaded with messages for a sister school in Japan. As of the last update, the Pacific Lotus was 2,200 nautical miles offshore and heading west toward its destination. More information and a link to the live tracker is available at http://www.crmm.org

During a port of call in Chiapas, Mexico, the cutter’s crew coordinated with the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Defense’s Northern Command and Mexico’s federal government to arrange a community service opportunity for the crew. Twenty crewmembers from Steadfast volunteered to refurbish and paint a temporary shelter used by migrant children. The crewmembers played several soccer games with the shelter’s children after they completed their volunteer work.

In addition to law enforcement operations, Steadfast also responded to a distress call from a Guatemalan fishing vessel. The fishing vessel hailed Steadfast on VHF channel 16 and reported one of their crewmembers was injured and in need of medical assistance. Steadfast responded and deployed the cutter’s corpsman via small boat to meet the fishing vessel. Once aboard the fishing vessel, the corpsman rendered first aid to the Guatemalan fisherman who was suffering from an infected shark bite.

Steadfast’s crew sailed over 13,000 nautical miles during their patrol enforcing maritime safety and security in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Steadfast is a Reliance Class medium endurance cutter homeported in Astoria since 1994.

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