U.S. Coast Guard hosts Oceania military leaders for maritime security talks

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Henderson, U.S. Coast Guard

Military leaders from the four stakeholder countries in Oceania gathered in Honolulu this week for important discussions concerning security policy in the Pacific and strategies for expanding maritime surveillance in the region.

Rear Adm. Manson Brown, commander of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District, held the first Coast Guard-led Quadrilateral Talks “Quad Talks” meeting with Australian, New Zealand and French delegates at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, March 17-18, 2009. The two-day meeting advanced ideas and programs to improve maritime domain awareness.

“We gather together a couple times each year in order to exchange views on regional issues and policy perspectives,” said Cmdr. Mark Young, chief of law enforcement for the Fourteenth Coast Guard District, headquartered in Honolulu.

“It’s also an opportunity to identify the best ways to collectively coordinate and de-conflict our respective activities in order to advance our own national interests and those of the countries in the Pacific region,” said Young.

The U.S. Coast Guard was designated in 2008 as the executive agent for the Quad Talks by the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) because many of the security issues in the Pacific are directly linked to Coast Guard missions.

The main goal of the Quad Talks is to strengthen maritime security in the Pacific Ocean, specifically around the island countries in the South Pacific through improved maritime domain awareness and law enforcement capability.

Illegal fisheries and other illegal activities are a major concern throughout the island countries of the Pacific Ocean, so the four major nations with a vested interest in the region (the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and France) optimize their exchange of information when together and develop ways to minimize illegal activities. This exchange leads to innovative ideas for law enforcement operations and policy procedures, including, for example, officer exchanges between the countries and ‘ship rider’ agreements, said Young.

“Communication in these discussions are vitally important to ensure we gain a real understanding in what each other are doing and to gain a better strategy for future law enforcement operations,” said Cmdr. Paul Scott, director of plans at Fleet Headquarters in Australia.

The Quad Talks encourages the four nations to work with each other in building a maritime security network, said participants. The talks help with information sharing and eliminate redundancies.

“I think any opportunity we have to gather together to understand what each countries’ priorities are always an important opportunity we shouldn’t pass it up,” said Group Capt. Ian Watts, director of Domestic and Regional Operations at Headquarters Joint Operations Command in Australia.

“You think you know what’s required from the other parties and you think you understand what their issues are, but when you get together you find out face-to-face what it really is, there is no substitute spending the time in each others company and talking through the issues,” said Watts.

Since certain areas in the Pacific Ocean are more prone to illegal activities, developing these bonds with the three other nations, and their respective territories, helps curtail illegal activity. U.S. Coast Guard assets based in Honolulu and Apra Harbor, Guam, have helped with air surveillance and prove an extra asset for law enforcement.

The Coast Guard also routinely calls on assets from Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia on search and rescue and law enforcement cases.

“With the illegal activity in the Pacific, every nation struggles to keep up with the high demand for operational law enforcement assets,” said Group Captain John Cummings, chief of staff officer at Joint Forces Headquarters in New Zealand.

“The idea of helping each other to do joint operations and allow other agencies to assist on boarding vessels within their respective waters is a great way to increase law enforcement capability,” Cummings said.

The Fourteenth Coast Guard District depends on these relationships to stretch its maritime domain capability in the far-flung Pacific. The district is the service’s largest geographically at more than 12.2 million square miles.

“Success has bred success, and when the smaller territories see the positive outcomes after an operation it helps widen the range of law enforcement,” said Brown, who has traveled extensively through the region fostering these crucial relationships.

“I was honored to help host these discussions, and the fruit we will bear will be shared by all the island nations of the Pacific,” said Brown.

The Quadrilateral Talks were held last year in New Caledonia and are scheduled for Australia in 2010.

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