SANTA RITA, Guam — Marking the culmination of a 46-day patrol, the USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139) crew completed a series of operations in partnership with Papua New Guinea and other regional allies, bolstering maritime security and resource management in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and on the high seas, returning to Guam on Sept. 24, 2023.
The recent patrol operation specifically supported the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency's annual Operation Island Chief at the outset of the patrol and the broader U.S. Coast Guard's Operation Blue Pacific, further solidifying the U.S. commitment to resource security and regional stability.
Expanded Partnerships and Engagements
Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing fundamentally erodes national security and exacerbates existing maritime governance gaps. This patrol significantly contributed to closing those gaps. By navigating the EEZs of the United States, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea, Myrtle Hazard's crew strengthened the rule of law at sea, which the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to enforce.
They also made port calls in Manus Island, Rabaul, Port Moresby, Lae in Papua New Guinea, and Cairns, Australia. This visit was the first by a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to Lae, laying the foundation for future visits. These stops also facilitated engagement with agency representatives throughout Papua New Guinea, including the government of Papua New Guinea, their National Fisheries Authority and Customs Service, and the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby. In multiple locations, the crew worked with the PNG Defence Force, and in Manus, they also hosted the deployed U.S. Navy Seabees Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE. The team was fortunate to observe PNG Independence Day in Lae, deepening cultural bonds.
The recent joint maritime patrol between the U.S. Coast Guard and multiple Papua New Guinea agencies was a historic step forward in U.S.-PNG relations. The collaborative operation led to advancements in maritime domain awareness and law enforcement expertise and successfully countered illegal activities like unregulated fishing. With the Western and Central Pacific Oceans being a significant source of the world's tuna, the joint effort emphasized the mutual commitment to protect valuable marine resources. The patrol yielded six contact and observation reports, one of which led to immediate action by the PNG Fisheries Authority against a foreign fishing vessel crew for a Vessel Monitoring System violation. Additionally, four boardings of foreign fishing vessels took place to enforce regulations and deter illegal activity in PNG's EEZ. These outcomes highlight the operation's regional impact and set a strong foundation for future cooperation.
In Cairns, Australia, the Myrtle Hazard team engaged in memorable interactions with the Australian Royal Navy and Border Force. Notably, an all-out, full-court, officiated basketball game took place, with members from both services participating—highlighting the ever-growing camaraderie. They also spent time at the Great Barrier Reef International Marine College.
Milestone Achievements and Experiences
"Our 46-day patrol has been an exceptional journey. The sheer dedication and grit exhibited by my crew have been nothing short of remarkable," said Lt. Jalle Merritt, commanding officer of the USCGC Myrtle Hazard. "From once-in-a-lifetime experiences like observing PNG Independence Day to earning new qualifications, this patrol signifies the hard work, joy of human connection, and increased competence we've gained."
During the patrol, a line-crossing ceremony at the equator en route to Guam marked a significant rite of passage for the crew, symbolizing their transformation into more seasoned mariners.
"I had the honor of serving aboard a 110-foot Island-class patrol boat based out of Guam early in my career. Due to the platform's capabilities, we were limited in our operational reach to Palau and portions of the Federated States of Micronesia. Today, the FRCs based here are redefining the dynamic for our Service and our regional partners," said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam. "From Guam, we've expanded our area of operations to areas that include our partners in the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, but also the Republic of Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Nauru. And we have plans to reach the Philippines soon. Most FRCs are engaged in near-coastal operations, but ours are venturing farther, more frequently, substantiating the U.S. Coast Guard's role as a significant maritime security actor across the Indo-Pacific."
Building upon last year's visit by a Guam-based fast response cutter crew and the recently ratified bilateral agreement with PNG, the Myrtle Hazard's team patrolled 7,484 nautical miles, significantly bolstering maritime security and resource protection in multiple EEZs. The patrol enhanced interoperability with regional allies like PNG and Australia and advanced U.S. national priorities through targeted operations and cultural diplomacy. The patrol also contributed to the broader objectives of the PIF Forum Fisheries Agency's annual Operation Island Chief and the U.S. Coast Guard's Operation Blue Pacific, strengthening both bilateral and multilateral relationships in the region.
The Long View
The U.S. Coast Guard 14th District, based out of Honolulu, Hawaii, and U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam, continue to foster enduring partnerships with regional allies. With humanitarian Service at its core, the U.S. Coast Guard remains committed to maritime safety, security, and stewardship, solidifying its longstanding reputation in the Pacific as a trusted partner. Plans and additional patrols are already underway for further engagement with regional partners.
— USCG —
The Myrtle Hazard is the 39th 154-foot Sentinel-class FRC, named in honor of the first enlisted woman in the U.S. Coast Guard who served as an electrician and radio operator. The Guam-based cutters serve as a cornerstone for the U.S. Coast Guard's ongoing commitment to the people of Oceania, focusing on maritime safety, security, and stewardship.