By Grady T. Fontana, Military Sealift Command Far East
LUGANVILLE, Republic of Vanuatu (NNS) -- The U.S. Ambassador to Vanuatu Walter E. North attended Exercise KOA MOANA 15-3 Vanuatu opening ceremony at the Vanuatu Police Force here, Nov. 4.
"The waters of the South Pacific are home to some of the riches areas of marine biodiversity and fishery resources, but their vast expanse makes them difficult to patrol and police," said Ambassador North, who is also U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. "Protecting these waterways for sustainable use and legal use by all parties is not only in the interest of Vanuatu, it's in the interest of the United States."
Military Sealift Command's dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1) anchored off the coast of Vanuatu and offloaded Marines and equipment yesterday as part of her continuing support of the exercise.
In Vanuatu, the Marines will continue with their military-to-law enforcement engagements, while members of the Navy and Coast Guard will concurrently participate in Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) operations, just as they did in Fiji and Kiribati, along with their host nation partners.
"As a signal of our enduring commitment to the Pacific, this exercise, with about 120 U.S. Marines, joining their colleagues from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, and in partnership with the Vanuatu authorities, will conduct operation to help combat transnational crime within Vanuatu's exclusive economic zone," said the ambassador. "The combined teams will look for potential violations and board vessels for further inspection."
The first portion of the exercise was in the Tahiti in September, followed by legs in Fiji and Kiribati in October where Marines conducted theater security cooperation (TSC) activities with those host nation partners.
After Vanuatu, Lewis and Clark, which is also part of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron TWO (MPSRON-2), will carry her personnel and cargo to Timor Leste for more TSC events, then return to her home port in Diego Garcia early December.
"The KOA MOANA exercise is looking at security force relations to expose our Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard elements, in this very interesting environment, to see how we might improve our capacity to work together [with host nations] in natural disasters, to combat transnational crime and other illegal activities like unregulated and unreported fishing by bolstering law enforcement programs through on-shore training and potential boarding of commercial vessels nearby, said North."
During the OMSI operations in Kiribati, the combined Tarawa Maritime Police unit and U.S. Coast Guard enforcement officers boarded nine fishing vessels. Of those nine, the Tarawa Maritime Police unit identified five boats with violations.
Those violations ranged from boats not having proper documentation or licenses to fish in the Kiribati exclusive economic zone, to vessels not having seabird or turtle mitigation measures on board.
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.
Exercise KM 15-3 is a four-month international exercise with participants from the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and host nation participants from various countries in the Pacific Island Nations of Oceania.
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.