USCG expanding its role in the Pacific
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Last year, the Federated States of Micronesia government received a package labeled “customs shirts,” which came from “around the U.S. Pacific Northwest.” Customs officers thought the shipment contained uniforms they ordered from an off-shore supplier, according to FSM President David Panuelo.
“Interestingly, when the box was opened, as in fact every item shipped from abroad the government has the right and power to inspect, the box was full of marijuana, and the criminals’ intent to circumvent drug trafficking laws by declaring they were sending shirts is what got themselves caught,” Panuelo said, narrating the story during a meeting with U.S. officials in Hawaii in July 2021.
“It’s a funny story,” Panuelo said in a press statement after the Hawaii meeting. “But by saying it out loud and by announcing this story in a press release, we’ve also alerted the people who committed that crime that the government is aware of their actions. When it comes to conventional security threats, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, the security interest of not saying where the boats are conducting (surveillance) in the short term outweighs the public interest of knowing how the government is protecting them from the threat.”
Last month, the FSM’s maritime security became even more vulnerable following the departure of two Australian patrol boats that created a critical gap in the nation’s maritime surveillance and emergency response capability.
The FSS Micronesia and FSS Independence, which guarded the FSM waters for three decades, headed back to Australia on Jan. 12 after their services were retired
The first replacement vessel, a Guardian-class patrol boat, is expected to arrive in April 2022, and the second in July.
While awaiting the replacement boats' arrival, Panuelo said he would request supplemental patrols from Australia, Japan and the United States to bridge the security gap "until such time that the nation’s maritime surveillance capacity is not only restored but strengthened."
The FSM and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam have begun discussions on “future plans” to assist the Pacific nation with a range of missions from law enforcement to search and rescue.
On Jan. 14, Captain Nicholas Simmons, USCG commanding officer, hosted American Ambassador Carmen G. Cantor and Leo Falcam Jr, Panuelo’s chief of staff, onboard the USCG Fast Response Cutter Frederick Hatch, one of the three cutters permanently stationed on Guam.
The USCG is part of the Department of Homeland Security. While the USCG has been providing a response to common crimes at sea around the Pacific such as drug trafficking and illegal fishing, the USCG has reiterated its announcement of its expanded role in the region to supplement the U.S. Navy’s mission.
Quoting Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, the Business Insider reported on Jan. 11 that the USCG’s expanded role involves “taking on more assertive actions against China in the Pacific theater.”
The Business Insider reported that the ships and personnel of the U.S. Coast Guard are spending more time in the region conducting missions for which other branches aren't well suited.
What we do, it's not big in numbers, but it's, I think, pretty significant in contribution. We get access. We can go places," the Business Insider quoted Schultz as saying.
Schultz first announced the USCG’s expanded role and permanent presence in the region during a teleconference with the Asia Pacific media in November 2019. He disclosed that the “additional presence” of Chinese forces had been detected in Yap.
Some Pacific island nations have welcomed China into their jurisdictions, lured by Beijing's increasing aid. While sovereign nations have the right to make their own diplomatic decisions, Schultz said the U.S. hopes to be the Pacific island nations’ “partner of choice.” The U.S. offers “the exchange of capabilities and professional exchanges with the regional partners," Schultz said at the 2019 conference.