By Grady Fontana, Military Sealift Command Far East
PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command's USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1) is currently participating in Exercise Koa Moana 15-3, a four-month exercise that involves embarked Marines and will make stops at locations in the Pacific Island Nations of Oceana: French Polynesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Timor Leste.
The purpose of the exercise, which is slated to end late November, is to enhance senior military leader engagements between allied and partner nations with a collective interest in military-to-military and military-to-law enforcement relations.
While training with other nations, the U.S. Marine Corps will exercise key aspects of military operations, capability development and interoperability.
During the exercise-while Marines are ashore conducting exercise objectives-USNS Lewis and Clark, which is also part of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron Two (MPSRON-2), will concurrently participate in Oceanic Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) operations in support of Maritime Law Enforcement operations by the U.S. Coast Guard.
OMSI is a Secretary of Defense program aimed to diminish transnational illegal activity on the high seas and enhance regional security and interoperability with partner nations.
The OMSI memorandum of understanding between Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helps to deter and prevent various threats to maritime security and transnational crime; encourage mutually beneficial partnerships with Pacific Island Nations; promote interoperability; enhance maritime domain awareness; and improve economic stability throughout Oceania, according to U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Lisa Hatland, Coast Guard liaison to KOA MOANA and stationed at U.S. Coast Guard District 14 out of Honolulu.
The combined U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard team, with the assistance of a partner nation law enforcement authority will be looking for potential violations at sea and board the suspect vessels for further inspection.
"Lewis and Clark will embark foreign law enforcement agents from several Pacific Island Nations in order to intercept and board commercial fishing vessels operating inside their sovereign exclusive economic zones (EEZ)," said U.S. Navy Capt. Paul D. Hugill, commodore of MPSRON-2.
The program leverages Department of Defense assets transiting the region to increase the U.S. Coast Guard's maritime domain awareness, ultimately supporting its maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.
"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has significant negative effects on regional and national economies, and serves as a destabilizing force in the region," said Hatland. "OMSI supports the national strategic objectives of the United Sates by helping ensure stability within the greater Oceania Region, where more than a dozen Pacific Island Nations depend on highly migratory fish stocks within their EZZ for sustenance and national income."
The Coast Guard is responsible for patrolling the waters around the numerous islands associated with the U.S. throughout the region. Each of these islands has territorial waters stretching out to 12 miles from shore.
Beyond that, stretching out to 200 nautical miles are EZZs, an area defined by international law that allows each nation exclusive rights to the exploration and use of marine resources. Oceania contains 43 percent, or approximately 1.3 million square miles, of United States' EEZs that are divided between nine non-contiguous U.S. EEZs: Main Hawaiian Islands, Johnston, Kingman/Palmyra, Jarvis, Howland/Baker, American Samoa, Wake, Guam, and Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI).
COMPSRON 2, currently embarked in USNS Lewis and Clark and operating in the Southern Eastern Pacific, maintains tactical control of the 10 ships that are forward deployed to Diego Garcia and carrying afloat prepositioned U.S. military cargo for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force. The squadron's mission is to enable the force from the sea by providing swift and effective transportation of vital equipment and supplies for designated operations.
MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
The Lewis and Clark is currently deployed to the Commander, 7th Fleet and Commander, Task Force 73 area of operations enhancing security and stability in the Pacific region.