Better border control | US Coast Guard commits to strengthening watch over Fiji

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US Coast Guard and Fiji Navy personnel stand in front of the US Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane while moored in Suva. Picture: US COAST GUARD

Last week the US Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane, a 270- foot medium endurance cutter made its first visit to Fiji as part of its Shiprider Agreement which Fiji has been a part of since 2018.

According to the US Coast Guard (USCG), Fijian shipriders from the Republic Fiji Navy, Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Immigration, and Fiji Revenue and Customs Services and the USCGC Harriet Lane boarding team partnered together to conduct fishery boardings in the Fiji’s exclusive economic zone enhancing maritime laws and ensuring regional security.

Commanding Officer Commander Nicole Tesoniero said the ship with a crew of about 100 personnels could operate independently for up to 21 days, without refuelling.

Cdr Tesoniero said that with this endurance, the ship can extend its reach throughout the Pacific region addressing emerging threats such as illegal fishing, drug trafficking and other illicit activities.

The cutter can conduct a variety of missions including search and rescue, law enforcement, maritime defence, and protection of the marine environment.

“USCGC Harriet Lane was identified as a platform to bringing out that commitment to Pacific Islands, like Fiji,” Cdr Tesoniero said.

“Since then, the ship has been actively engaged in supporting Operation Blue Pacific, which focuses on enhancing maritime security and cooperation in the region.”

It was highlighted that the deployment of the USCGC Harriet Lane to the Pacific stemmed from the commitment made by the US during the Pacific Islands Summit in September 2022.

The vessel made its first port call in Pago Pago, American Samoa, before arriving in Fiji for the patrol exercise.

In a press release by the USCGC, the vessel was expected to engage with a range of Indo-Pacific partners but with a particular focus on the Oceania states.

Cdr Tesoniero said the US had long supported peace, security and stability in the Pacific Islands.

“Joining like-minded partners including Australia, New Zealand, and France, USCGC Harriet Lane stands ready to deliver sustained regional presence while signalling the Coast Guard’s commitment to be a steadfast partner in one of the world’s most dynamic economically significant regions.”

Vice Admiral Andrew Tiongson, commander of the Coast Guard in the Pacific said the region was a strategic and vital region for the US and the cutter reflected an enduring commitment to their partners.

“The demand for maritime governance has never been higher especially today in this dynamic region. Harriet Lane is a shining symbol of maritime governance, and it will make a positive impact in this world to align their operations with overarching strategies,” he said.

Vice Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Steven Poulin, added that all Pacific nations must maintain sovereignty and enjoy these rights.

“The US Coast Guard has unique capabilities and authorities that often make us the partner of choice, and we can meet the needs of other nations because we are flexible,” he said.

“We listen to what our partners and allies need and maintain strong relationships.”

The release reports the vessels arrived at its new homeport at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii last December after a 36- day transit from the US East Coast.

It was also stated the cutter, which was commissioned in 1984, recently completed a 15-month life extension program in Maryland before its deployment to the Pacific.

The bilateral shiprider agreements are a force multiplier for both Fiji and the US Coast Guard as they allow Fijian law enforcement personnel to observe, protect, board, and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within Fijian waters with the support of Coast Guard personnel and vessels.

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