Hawaii Coast Guard air crew assists with cyclone aid in Vanuatu
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser October 31, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Coast Guard air crew based out Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu was flying over the Pacific monitoring fisheries last week when it was redirected to provide assistance in the island nation of Vanuatu in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Lola.
A U.S. Coast Guard air crew based out Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu was flying over the Pacific monitoring fisheries last week when it was redirected to provide assistance in the island nation of Vanuatu in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Lola.
Vanuatu, which sits roughly 3, 521 miles southwest of Hawaii, is made up of 80 islands and home to 335, 000 people. Tropical Cyclone Lola, a Category 4 storm, swept through the South Pacific island chain last week inflicting significant damage. Relief workers are still surveying the damage, but as of Sunday local authorities reported two people dead on Ambrym Island.
The Coast Guard received a request Wednesday afternoon from the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea—which oversees affairs in several Pacific Island nations—to support the government of Vanuatu with post-storm flyover and assessment of ports and critical infrastructure after the cyclone.
Vanuatu has two shipping ports, the Port of Vila and the Port of Luganville in Santo, that it depends on to ensure supplies are delivered to the island and its citizens. According to Coast Guard officials, the service redirected an Oahu-based C-130 that had been deployed in support of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency’s Operation Kuru Kuru, an annual international exercise to increase monitoring of Pacific fisheries.
“The Coast Guard remains dedicated to assisting the international community in times of need, “ the Coast Guard’s Hawaii-based District 14 said in a statement. “This mission exemplifies the organization’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of those affected by natural disasters, even in distant corners of the world.”
The Coast Guard has always played a prominent role in search and rescue operations across the region, as well as fisheries enforcement. Many small Pacific island nations lack coast guards or navies of their own to comprehensively monitor and protect their waters, and regularly call on the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance.
The Coast Guard is playing an increasingly prominent role in U.S. policy in the Pacific. In the White House’s 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy, it is the only military service specifically named, calling for bolstering its presence and working more closely with regional countries.
Historically, the Coast Guard has had been used to competing for scraps and making due as Congress lavished funds on the other military branches. It was just in 2022 that crews at Barbers Point completed transitioning to the latest model of the C-130—the C-130J—which has upgraded cameras and sensors with the ability to transmit what they’re seeing in real time to officials on the ground.
But in recent years concerns about rampant illegal fishing, China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands and increasing natural disasters in the Pacific have prompted U.S. lawmakers to make moves to boost the small service’s footprint in the region and upgrade its equipment. This month the Coast Guard unveiled its new Indo-Pacific Marine Environmental Response Regional Activity Center and the Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Center of Expertise in Hawaii on Ford Island.
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