The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships to the South Pacific – with a Coast Guard boarding team on board. The Coast Guard-LCS combination has proven itself in counternarcotics interdiction campaigns in the Caribbean, and the new deployment extends that model to fisheries enforcement partnerships with Pacific Island nations.
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Though costly to operate when compared with a Coast Guard cutter, the Independence-class provides an additional vessel platform, freeing up naval surface combatants and National Security Cutters for other missions. It is capable of launching RIBs for vessel boardings, and it has a large flight deck for deploying search drones.
On March 20, USS Mobile got under way with an embarked USCG law enforcement team on the first deployment of a new program, the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative. Its objective is to reduce IUU fishing, combat transnational crime, and enhance regional security.
The primary objective will be to enforce the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Convention (WCPFC)’s tuna fishing rules. This has not historically been a top priority for the U.S. Navy, but the strategic dynamics are changing in the region. The U.S. government is putting a new premium on Pacific island partnerships to offset growing Chinese influence, and counter-IUU fishing assistance is a way to enhance America’s reputation as a partner of choice. Small Pacific Island states do not always have the resources to police their expansive EEZs, and the U.S. is one of the few foreign partners capable of assisting in the task.
Historically, IUU fishing enforcement has been a Coast Guard mission, but under the new initiative, the U.S. Navy is joining the action as well.
“OMSI is imperative to ensure that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Convention (WCPFC) agreement is upheld within the Indo-Pacific region,” said Cmdr. Richard Skinnell (USN), USS Mobile’s commanding officer. “This initiative allows us the opportunity to work jointly with other branches of the military as well as our allies and partners.”