Members of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District conducted meetings and a tabletop exercise in Pohnpei the week of Dec. 12 around the use of the expanded bilateral agreement in support of maritime law enforcement operations recently signed between the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States in October, before successfully executing boardings under the agreement Dec. 17.

“We are so pleased to be strengthening our trust and partnership with our colleagues in the Federated States of Micronesia to overcome complex challenges to maritime enforcement in the region,” said Capt. Nick Simmons, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam. “FSM is a nation with over six hundred islands, and covering that area with available patrol vessels is a challenge. We frequently patrol the region with our Fast Response Cutters from Guam. Still, it can be quite a logistical undertaking to get an FSM marine police officer from Pohnpei aboard a patrol vessel in time to respond to a possible illegal fishing situation, particularly farther out in Yap or Kosrae states.”

The purpose of the tabletop exercise was to walk through the process of using the standard operating procedures under the expanded agreement. The team met with local government members, including the judicial and law enforcement branches. Then on Dec. 17, the crew of the USCGC Frederick Hatch (WPC 1143), after departing Kosrae, successfully conducted two boardings on licensed fishing vessels operating in the FSM exclusive economic zone with FSM’s approval.

“It was very fulfilling to have an opportunity to enact the procedures under the expanded agreement for the first time after watching the program develop over the last year,” said Lt. Patrick Dreiss, USCGC Frederick Hatch commanding officer. “It provides the U.S. Coast Guard with another avenue to support our regional partners and continues to lay the groundwork for increasing Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing enforcement in the region.”

The expanded agreement builds on the existing bilateral shiprider agreement between the two countries. It establishes procedures for authorizing the U.S. to conduct maritime law enforcement boardings on behalf of FSM to combat illicit maritime activity when an FSM law enforcement officer is not present. More specifically, the agreement provides a coordinating mechanism and process for U.S. law enforcement personnel to work with the FSM National Police, Division of Border Control and Maritime Surveillance to receive approval from the FSM to act under the agreement.

The U.S. Coast Guard regularly exercises 11 bilateral fisheries law enforcement agreements on behalf of the United States with countries throughout the Pacific islands. Shiprider agreements allow maritime law enforcement officers to observe, board, and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within a designated EEZ or on the high seas. These law enforcement activities bolster maritime law enforcement operations and maritime domain awareness and provide a mechanism to conduct integrated operations within the Pacific. This expanded agreement is the first of its kind.

“We’re excited to launch the expanded maritime enforcement operations, which will strengthen FSM sovereignty and protect vital marine resources,” said Alissa Bibb, Chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kolonia.

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains strong partnerships with the maritime forces in the region through extensive training and subject matter expert exchanges. FSM, also known as the Big Ocean State, has one of the world’s largest EEZs, with waters rich in sea life. FSM consists of four states — Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae — each with a mix of unique peoples, languages, and cultures. FSM is a signatory to a Compact of Free Association with the United States. They are also a Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Association member and a party to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.