Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West
U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific
SUVA, Fiji — Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Fijian navy spoke at a press conference, Friday, celebrating the first Fijian shiprider to ride on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.
The visit by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crew to Fiji is the first time a shiprider from that nation boarded a Coast Guard vessel. Michael Goldman, Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Suva and Fiji’s Minister of Defense Ratu Inoke Kubuabola signed the shiprider agreement Nov. 12.
“Fiji is a small island nation, and we have a very vast ocean,” said Fijian navy Sub-Lt. Opeti Enesi, the Fijian shiprider. “The shiprider program will add another tool for us regarding our capability. With this program, our law enforcement locally will be able to board U.S. ships and conduct boardings whether it’s illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or if it’s any foreign vessels entering our waters illegally.”
During the press conference Coast Guard Capt. James Estramonte, the commanding officer of Munro, and Enesi answered questions from the media about the new agreement and the impact it will have on both Fiji and the United States. The agreement allows Fijian law enforcement officers to work aboard U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy vessels to enforce Fijian laws in its territorial waters. A Fijian navy observer is scheduled to fly with a Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircrew around Fijian territory Saturday.
Fisheries provide a renewable source of food and income to Pacific nations. There is a shared interest for both Fiji and the United States to protect those resources. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing can damage fish stocks. The shiprider agreement allows cooperation between both nations to protect the fishing industry and Fijian sovereignty. This will also contribute to regional stability.
Following the press conference, Fijian navy cadets were given a tour of the Munro. The cutter is one of the Coast Guard’s new National Security Cutters. The Coast Guard, as the United States largest maritime law enforcement agency, has an ever-growing role in the Pacific Ocean and cooperates closely with its partners to secure mutual interests. The crew showed some of the cadets their ship while others went for a patrol on the cutter’s 35-foot Long Range Interceptor small boat.
While the press conference was occurring, some of the crew worked at the St. Christopher Home on the outskirts of Suva.
“We did yard work and fixed a fence,” said Seaman Caitlin Pascoe, a deckhand on the Munro. “When we first got there they had a presentation where they sat us down and sang Silent Night for us. I loved it. I used to do missionary work in high school, and it made me miss outreach and being with people in the community.”
On Saturday their shipmates are planning to participate in an event at the Lami town beach. The crew members will help clean up the beach and preserve the environment.
The Munro’s crew are conducting their first operational patrol. This is also the first time a National Security Cutter has operated in this part of the Pacific demonstrating the Coast Guard’s commitment to being ready, relevant, and responsive throughout the region. During the patrol, the Munro is enforcing conservation and management measures established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Before transiting to Fiji, the cutter stopped in Honiara, Solomon Islands, to hold a rededication ceremony for the ship’s namesake Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro. Douglas Munro gave his life in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II and is the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient.