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Pearl Harbor destroyer USS Michael Murphy returns after adventurous 92 days at sea

Damage Controlman 2nd Class Ronald McKeever greets his daughter during a homecoming ceremony Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, following the USS Michael Murphy's three-month deployment.

DEVIN M. LANGER/U.S. NAVY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 20, 2019

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — It was an eventful 92 days at sea for the destroyer USS Michael Murphy, which returned Monday to Pearl Harbor and waiting family members.

The warship — named after a Hawaii-based Navy SEAL who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his courage in Afghanistan — deployed May 20 to Chile with a crew of about 350.

The Michael Murphy participated in UNITAS — the longest­-running multinational maritime exercise, first conducted in 1960 — with 11 other nations, as well as Teamwork South, a biennial Chilean naval exercise.

On July 24 the destroyer rescued five Peruvian mariners at sea who had gone five days without food and three days without water.

Twelve hours later an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the destroyer spotted a low-profile speedboat whose crew started to jettison bales of what turned out to be cocaine, according to the Navy.

The Michael Murphy remained alongside the vessel until the Coast Guard cutter Midgett, on its way to its new home port in Honolulu, arrived and retrieved 2,100 pounds of cocaine and took three suspected smugglers into custody.

“I just want to say thanks to my crew,” Cmdr. Christopher Forch said back on the pier at Pearl Harbor. “Outstanding crew, outstanding ship, and they worked very hard during this entire deployment.”

The unplanned drama started after port stops in Chile and Peru. Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Ryan Buck recalled in a Navy release that he couldn’t believe what he was seeing July 24: a group of Peruvian fishermen waving makeshift flags made from jackets and pants.

The fishing boat was spotted about 80 nautical miles off the Ecuadorean coast.

“Their engine broke about day 6 or 8. They ran out of food about five days before we found them, and they were actually on their third day without water,” Forch said.

The men, who were “very happy” to see the Michael Murphy, were brought on board and given food, water and clothing, and their vessel was towed, he said.

Twelve hours later brought the drug interdiction with the low-­profile drug-smuggling boat traveling about 17 mph.

“We raced in and stopped right in front of them, and they stopped and gave up,” Forch said. “Luckily, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Midgett had actually just finished up doing the Panama Canal transit, so they came south.”

The boat, crew and ditched bales of cocaine were turned over to the Coast Guard, he said.

It wasn’t a long deployment by Navy standards, but for Ivy Cortes the timing of the return was just right. She and Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Kristopher Cortes, 22, are expecting their first child in three weeks.

“Timing-wise, definitely worried,” Ivy Cortes said of the deployment. “I’m 37 weeks right now. I was just hoping that (the baby) would stay in there long enough for (Kristopher) to come home.”

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Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) 1st Class Louie Opol gets a big welcome home from his wife during a homecoming ceremony at Pearl Harbor on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, following the USS Michael Murphy's three-month deployment.
DEVIN M. LANGER/U.S. NAVY

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