Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew returns home after Caribbean patrol

A Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew member embraces his family Feb. 27, 2020, as he returns home to Naval Station Mayport, Florida. The Valiant crew returned home after completing a nine-week patrol in the Caribbean Sea supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson)

A Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew member embraces his family Feb. 27, 2020, as he returns home to Naval Station Mayport, Florida.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant returned home Thursday to Naval Station Mayport after completing a nine-week patrol in the Caribbean Sea.

The Valiant crew patrolled over 11,000 nautical miles in the Caribbean supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) conducting humanitarian and law enforcement operations ultimately saving 23 lives.

While underway, the Valiant crew interdicted a 30-foot disabled and adrift migrant vessel attempting an illegal voyage to Puerto Rico, approximately 37 nautical miles south of Isla Saona, Dominican Republic. A Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft crew spotted the vessel and directed Valiant to its location. This interdiction rescued 19 migrants whose vessel would not have had enough fuel to make it to their U.S. destination. The crew later transferred the Dominican migrants to a Dominican Navy vessel for a safe return to the Dominican Republic.

Previously, the Coast Guard Cutter Richard Dixon crew transferred 50 migrants to Valiant from two separate interdictions. The Valiant crew transported six of the migrants to Ramey Sector Border Patrol Agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, for Federal prosecution on charges of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1326, Attempting to Illegally Re-enter the United States After a Prior Removal. These charges can carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine up to $250,000. The crew then repatriated the remaining 44 migrants to the Dominican Republic. These interdictions directly supported Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard, and the Caribbean Border Interagency Group. The Coast Guard provides food, water, shelter and basic medical attention to all migrants interdicted and embarked aboard their cutters.

In addition to interdicting migrant vessels, the Valiant crew conducted joint law enforcement operations with the Belize Coast Guard and hosted a Belize Coast Guard officer aboard as part of a two-day Engagement Coincidental to Operations. This unique opportunity gave both nations the chance to communicate and learn from each other while sharing different law enforcement techniques. As a result of the exercise, Belize was able to establish a presence further offshore in a suspected drug smuggling area. Throughout their patrol, the crew conducted law enforcement operations with an embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from the Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) from Jacksonville, Florida. Valiant and the HITRON crew completed numerous law enforcement and training sorties, flying a total of 32 sorties and logging nearly 50 flight hours.

Near the end of the patrol, the Valiant crew located two disabled vessels in a known drug smuggling area within a 24-hour period. The first was experiencing engine troubles and the other was out of fuel, and both crews claimed they had been adrift and without food or water for days. The Valiant crew rescued all four from their stricken vessels, embarked them onboard the cutter as search and rescue survivors, and transferred them to the Colombian Navy for transport back to land.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our crew this patrol as we plied the waters of the Caribbean for illicit maritime drug smugglers over the past two months in support of JIATF-S counterdrug operations, interdicting two logistics supply vessels,” stated Cmdr. Matthew Waldron, Valiant’s commanding officer. “Additionally, the crew demonstrated exceptional flexibility by quickly shifting gears from counterdrug to migrant operations and interdicting a disabled yola with 19 Dominican migrants bound for Puerto Rico in the middle of the night. Had it not been for the combined efforts of a forward-deployed Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 crew, the Dominican Republic Navy and Valiant, the individuals on that yola would have likely been lost at sea… that’s 19 lives saved.”

The Valiant is a multi-mission 210-foot Medium-Endurance Cutter whose missions include search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, homeland security, and national defense operations.

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