Cutter Chase Returns From 3 Month Eastern Pacific Deployment

SAN DIEGO – High-speed pursuits of drug smugglers, evasion of tropical storms, and service as an instrument of international relations – those are some of the adventures experienced by the men and women aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Chase during its second consecutive Eastern Pacific patrol.

The cutter returned home to Naval Base San Diego July 20 after a three-month deployment, during which Chase crew gave active pursuits of four “go-fast” drug boats. The crew of the 40-year old cutter was able to identify and pursue the four go-fasts, conduct an escort of a large coastal freighter to a joint law enforcement boarding, and conduct a two-day boarding of a large commercial bulk cargo ship suspected of drug smuggling, the last evolution described by boarding officer Lt.j.g. Jeffrey Sky Holm as “complex and intricate,” and the team’s effort as “tremendous, maintaining focus for 32 hours of law enforcement in the Eastern Pacific heat.”

The Chase provided a constant presence in the vital fight against drug smuggling throughout its 90-day deployment.

The crew had the privilege of enjoying some sites during their port visit to Golfito, Costa Rica, in late May. Golfito, adjacent to a dense rain forest preserve made famous by the motion picture “Jurassic Park” was once was a bustling banana port until the mid 1980s when the United Fruit Company vacated, leaving behind a depressed economy.

Today, the town has re-emerged as a destination for eco-tourism, surfing, sport fishing, and duty-free commerce. While in Golfito, Capt. Brian Perkins, Commanding Officer of the Chase, presented toys to an excited assembly of children and a school-wide raffle distributed the “goods” among the student body. Toys and assorted medical and hygiene products are provided through the U.S. Navy’s Project Handclasp. Deploying cutters and warships serve as ambassadors of good will by distributing the goods during their port visits. The principal of El Central San Jose grade school presented Chase crewmembers and members of the U.S. Embassy an American flag that once flew over the school during the decades of banana trade.

On hand for the informal ceremony were representatives from the Costa Rican Coast Guard. Later that day, a group of Chase crewmembers volunteered some personal liberty time to return to the school with donated materials from Home Depot Corporation to refurbish and beautify the school grounds by painting hand rails, concrete benches, and cleaning the playground areas.

Just days after getting underway from Costa Rica, the Chase crew received a report of a sailing vessel in distress 180 nautical miles north of the cutter’s position. The sailing vessel Stravaig had been caught in Tropical Storm Alma, the first tropical storm of this year’s hurricane season. The Chase turned around and headed back into the teeth of the very same storm she had been trying to avoid, to get on scene with the United Kingdom flagged sailing vessel and provide assistance. Once on scene, Chase launched its small boat, and Lt.j.g. Grade Holm and Operations Specialist Senior Chief Sean Smith conducted a visual inspection of the vessel. After providing some fuel, reassurance, and weather reports, the boarding team gave the Stravaig crew the green light to continue toward their destination. The two-person crew expressed a heartfelt thanks as the officers disembarked the vessel and returned to Chase.

July 3 marked a day of significance in the cutter’s history books as the Chase’s new deck gun, replaced during the final week of inport, was put to the test and the Italian made OTO Melara 76mm medium-range cannon successfully fired 60 rounds of ammunition at targets.

At the end of the patrol while proceeding north back toward home, the crew was finishing dinner off the coast of Baja California, about 100 hundred miles south of the United States-Mexican border, when the lookout spotted a go-fast. The cutter crew launched its over-the-horizon pursuit boat, outfitted with a response team and use of force package. But even at speeds up to 40 knots, the Coast Guard pursuit boat was unable to catch the high-powered smuggler just before it entered Mexican waters. Mexican authorities were alerted, and a helicopter from San Diego searched overhead, but the smugglers could not be located. With this pursuit as the final chapter in its patrol, the Chase continued to Indian Island, Wash., for an ammunition offload before returning to homeport for rest and repairs.

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