The Black Pearl of the Pacific
Posted by LT Stephanie Young, Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Written by Ensign Rebecca Rebar.
As America wakes to start the day, Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Apra Harbor, Guam, is already plowing through the seas of the Western Pacific Ocean.
In keeping with the traditions of America’s Coast Guard, Sequoia sailed the Pacific performing aids to navigation, law enforcement and search and rescue missions. In addition to these missions however, Sequoia took on a few extra, including: collecting scientific data; assisting a village’s rebuilding efforts; teaching boating safety; and delivering humanitarian aid supplies to native Pacific Islanders.
The first stop for Sequoia was to Pohnpei, a small island approximately 1,900 miles northeast of Australia. The crew hosted more than 300 local elementary and college students on tours of the ship, teaching the students about its unique capabilities.
Arriving at the islands of Ulithi, Nomwin and Murilo, crewmembers divided and distributed 25 pallets of humanitarian supplies stored in the cargo hold to each of the islands. Sequoia provided basic rebuilding supplies to the typhoon-ravaged atolls, including rain barrels for drinking water catchment , school supplies, first aid kits and food. The crew also met with the islanders to teach them boating safety and basic first aid. Each island they stopped at provided opportunities for positive interactions and unforgettable memories between islanders and Sequoia’s crew.
A month later, Sequoia arrived on Chuuk to perform a week-long, international search and rescue exercise, coordinated by the 14th Coast Guard District, Coast Guard Sector Guam and the government of the Federated States of Micronesia. Sequoia deployed and recovered un-manned floating objects, such as skiffs and jet-skis, outfitted with sensitive oceanographic instruments. Visiting scientists collected the resulting data which will be used to predict where objects or people “drift.” The data will be added to the Coast Guard’s search and rescue planning system where it will help with future rescue missions.
After completing the science mission, Sequoia’s crew continued their journey through the Pacific to the island of Poluwat, becoming the first U.S. ship to visit the island in more than 30 years. While anchored offshore, crewmembers traveled back and forth to the island and delivered humanitarian aid, provided much needed medical attention and training in first aid and boating safety. With a lack of technology available to the island, the crew focused their training on simple, easy actions which can be taken to increase boating safety. Advice was given to paint their boats bright colors, always bring a mirror with them when departing on a voyage, use coconuts or mooring balls as lifesaving tools if life jackets are not available and to make a “float plan.” All of these things increase chances of survival in this remote region of the Pacific where the nearest Coast Guard asset is days away.
While the crew instructed the boating community, the ship’s engineers worked hard to repair the island’s only UHF radio. They salvaged spare parts from discarded electronics and connected the radio to the island’s solar array. The radio tower structure was also repaired, restoring the community’s ability to contact neighboring islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the U.S. Coast Guard in emergencies.
With their mission complete, it was finally time to head home. Coast Guard missions such as these are rare and the people who work them even more so. The cargo holds aboard the ship were empty, but the crew was full of pride.