Coast Guard coordinates rescue of overdue fisherman

Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules airplane photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball

Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules airplane file photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball

SANTA RITA, Guam — U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam personnel successfully coordinated a search and rescue operation, in collaboration with multiple partners, to locate and rescue two overdue fishermen near Nukuoro Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia on July 12 and 13.

Thanks to the combined efforts of air asset crews, commercial mariners, and local partners, the missing fishermen were found and brought to safety on July 13.

The U.S. Coast Guard was alerted at 1:20 p.m. on July 12 by officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kolonia of a request from the Federated States of Micronesian government for assistance in locating two fishermen, aged 21 and 17, reported overdue on their fishing trip near Nukuoro Atoll. They were due back on July 10.

Through active coordination of search and rescue operations to save the lives of local mariners, the U.S. Coast Guard, along with international, interagency, and local partners, contribute to the overall safety and security of the Indo-Pacific region. The region’s vast expanse, with its numerous islands and remote areas, poses inherent challenges and risks for mariners. Timely and effective search and rescue efforts not only save lives but also help to maintain maritime stability, reunite families, and prevent potential emergencies from escalating into larger-scale incidents.

“By demonstrating a commitment to the safety of mariners in the region, the U.S. Coast Guard and our partners foster an environment of trust and cooperation, strengthening strategic regional partnerships and enhancing the overall security framework in the Indo-Pacific,” said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam.

U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam immediately initiated search coordination efforts. They issued SafetyNet broadcast alerts to mariners in the area and used the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System to identify potential vessels of opportunity. They notified these vessel crews of the distress situation and requested assistance using Inmarsat C communications.

The search involved deploying a patrol boat from the Federated States of Micronesia and a diverted contract re-supply vessel, developing search patterns based on winds and currents to predict the potential location of the fishermen. Given the absence of organic U.S. Coast Guard aviation capability in Guam, watchstanders requested fixed-wing aircraft support from U.S. Coast Guard 14th District and Department of Defense partners. As a result, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point crews scheduled an HC-130 Hercules airplane to depart Oahu, Hawaii, and arrive in the search area the following afternoon.

“Aircraft play a crucial role in our search and rescue operations at sea by getting crews on scene quickly and improving our coverage of large search areas,” said Cmdr. Ryan Crose, the search and rescue mission coordinator for the case. “The collaboration between different agencies and the use of air assets is vital to success given the remote nature and tyranny of distance to overcome. This case is the second in four days where aircraft and multinational, interagency partnerships were essential to saving lives.”

The U.S. Air Force 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base offered assistance by identifying four U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft departing Guam at various times. These aircraft crews were instrumental in the subsequent discovery of the boat in the water, approximately ten nautical miles southwest of Nukuoro Atoll, on the morning of July 13.

During the search and rescue operation, the watchstanders at JRSC Guam conducted a second pull of the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System. As a result, they identified the 394-foot Motor Vessel Sea Pearl I, a cargo ship, was present in the area and established communication with them via phone. Later that afternoon, the watchstanders received notification from the M/V Sea Pearl I crew and their parent company representatives, informing them the cargo vessel crew successfully rescued the two fishermen from the water.

“Operating in the expansive Pacific region with limited resources poses unique challenges. Recognizing the immense value of commercial mariners in supporting search and rescue efforts, particularly in the vast expanse of the Pacific, we extend our appreciation to these merchant mariners who are willing to divert and rescue others at sea. They are a force multiplier,” said Simmons.

On July 13, the JRSC Guam watchstanders received positive confirmation from the Department of Public Safety in the FSM that the two fishermen had indeed been found and were safe. Watchstanders notified U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and Department of Defense partners who stood down additional aviation assets.

Nukuoro Atoll is one of 607 islands comprising the Federated States of Micronesia; The FSM is a sovereign nation. The United States and the FSM have full diplomatic relations and maintain deep ties and a cooperative relationship. Nukuoro is remote, 832 nautical miles from Guam, and has no airstrip; a passenger boat calls irregularly, only once a month. The small population speaks their own unique language.

AMVER is the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System. Participating ships send a sail plan to the AMVER computer center before sailing. Vessels then report their locations every 48 hours until arriving at their port of call. Search and rescue controllers can predict the position of each ship at any point during its voyage and then call on them if there’s a case in their area.

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