By Roy Mabasa
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is interested in helping Pacific island nations enforce their own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and guard against fishing incursions.
According to USCG Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, the United States is ready to use its authorities and capacity building in a way that is helpful and beneficial to even some of the small island nations who struggle with their own EEZ enforcement.
“So we’ll do things like send a small training team into a nation and help teach them how to do a fisheries enforcement boarding to guard against fishing incursions. Or other law enforcement capacity-building, to bolster the capacity and the authority and ability to protect their own sovereignty has very much been the focus,” Fagan told journalists during Asia Pacific Hub teleconferencing on Tuesday.
Fagan emphasized that the role of the US Coast Guard is to help maintain a “free and open Indo Pacific” and a “rules-based international system.”
Vice Admiral Fagan’s statement came months after reports that some 100 Chinese militia boats have surrounded Pag-asa, an island that falls under the jurisdiction Palawan in the West Philippine Sea, part of the country’s EEZ.
Fagan said Washington is “aware” of the presence of Chinese militias near Pag-asa and have been following the situation, adding that the US is using the “international rules-based system” as an approach in handling such situation.
She cited as an example the conduct of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum, a multilateral forum where “like-minded” Coast Guards come together to discuss shared interest.
Aside from the United States, the other members of the forum are Canada, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.
“Forums like the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum provide that avenue for conversations of like-minded Coast Guards with regard to, again, enforcement of illegal fisheries enforcement activity and otherwise. So we do engage Coast Guard to Coast Guard on some of those topics with our Chinese Coast Guard counterparts as part of the Coast Guard forum,” the US admiral said.
Meanwhile, a US coast guard cutter docked in Manila Wednesday, the first visit of an American cutter to the Philippines in over seven years.
Last month, USCGC Bertholf, a 418-foot Legend-class cutter, docked in the country and conducted joint search and rescue (SAR) exercise with Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels BRP Batangas and BRP Kalanggaman in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Coast Guard’s deployment of resources to the Indo-Pacific directly supports the United States’ goal to strengthen maritime governance, safety, and security across the region, and we do that by working with, and learning from, our many partners and partner nations in the region,” Fagan stated, adding that the US will continue to work with partner nations in the Western and Central Pacific to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).
As a “unique” branch of the military, the US Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security and acts as a law enforcement organization, a regulatory agency, a first response agency, and a member of the intelligence community.
“I should emphasize that we are at all times a military force and at all times a law enforcement force. This duality of our authorities provides an incredible degree of flexibility and access and authority, and I’ll touch on some of that in a bit and hopefully have more conversation in that regard,” said Fagan who has spent her 35 years in the US Coast Guard.