USS Rushmore Visits Vanuatu

Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47), with embarked U.S. Coast Guard maritime law enforcement personnel, anchored off the coast of Vanuatu for a scheduled port visit, Sept. 15.

During the visit, the crew provided tours of the ship, allowing visitors the opportunity to see and experience life aboard a U.S. Navy warship.

“We value our partnership with the countries in the South Pacific and are committed to assisting them in enhancing maritime security and keeping the sea lanes open for the benefit of all,” said Rushmore’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. John Ryan. “This event is a unique opportunity for the crew to demonstrate the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and reciprocate the hospitality we receive when we make foreign port calls.”

The United States and Vanuatu established diplomatic relations in 1986, six years after Vanuatu’s independence from France and the United Kingdom. In 2016, the United States and Vanuatu signed a historic maritime cooperation law enforcement agreement, which included a ship rider agreement. Ship rider agreements allow maritime law enforcement officers from island nations like Vanuatu to use U.S. ships as maritime platforms from which to conduct boardings of commercial vessels operating in their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The regularly scheduled port call reinforced the U.S. Navy’s commitment to theater security cooperation and freedom of navigation operations within the South Pacific region.

Under the operational control of U.S. 3rd Fleet, Rushmore and embarked U.S. Coast Guard District 14 maritime law enforcement personnel departed San Diego for its Oceania Maritime Support Initiative (OMSI) deployment, Aug. 14.

OMSI is a secretary of defense program aimed to diminish transnational illegal activity on the high seas in the Pacific Island Nations of Oceania’s exclusive EEZ and enhance regional security and inoperability with partner nations.

Rushmore is homeported in San Diego and is part of the U.S. Naval Surface Forces and U.S. 3rd Fleet. Third Fleet leads naval forces in the Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training necessary for an effective global Navy. Third Fleet constantly coordinates with U.S. 7th Fleet to plan and execute missions based on their complementary strengths to promote ongoing peace, security, and stability throughout the Pacific theater of operations.

Through bilateral agreements, the U.S. Coast Guard assists 10 Pacific Island nations in patrolling the waters around their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Each of the nations has territorial waters stretching out 12 miles from shore. Beyond that, stretching out 200 nautical miles are EEZs, an area defined by national law that allows each nation exclusive rights to the exploration and use of maritime resources.

“Our crew is very excited to take part in the OMSI mission,” said Cmdr. John Ryan, commanding officer of Rushmore. “Working in tandem with the U.S. Coast Guard is a new experience for us, which will continue to demonstrate how the extensive range of U.S. Navy assets provides critical support to the embarked boarding teams in their mission of enforcing fishery laws.”

During this OMSI patrol, maritime law enforcement officers will use Rushmore as a platform to intercept and board commercial fishing vessels operating in their respective EEZs. They will be assisted during these boardings by the embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (USCG LEDET) and will be looking for any potential fishing violations.

“Support of Pacific Island Nations is vital to ensuring these countries can protect their resources, allowing them to maintain regional stability and economic independence,” said Ryan.

Rushmore, regional ship riders, and the U.S. Coast Guard will work together to conduct maritime law enforcement operations in support of U.S. and Pacific Island Nations fisheries laws and to suppress illicit activities. Upon completion of OMSI, Rushmore will return to San Diego.