Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, met with personnel from U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC 910) on 8 May after the vessel recently concluded a deployment to the Gulf of Guinea, which began in March.
Thetis will soon return to its homeport of Key West, Florida.
“I wanted to personally thank the crew for their hard work and dedication during their deployment to the Gulf of Guinea,” Waldhauser said. “Their efforts directly contributed to building the maritime security capabilities of our African partners and will have benefits that will last well beyond their return home.”
Thetis supported U.S. Naval Forces Africa’s exercise Obangame Express 2019 and Operation Junction Rain.
Obangame Express is a maritime security exercise designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activity. Operation Junction Rain is an interoperability operation between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and African partner nations with the prime objective of assisting partner nations enhance the maritime enforcement capabilities of African partners in order to improve management and security of the maritime domain.
“Prior to the exercise, we conduct engagements that teach the fundamentals, then the exercise reinforces it,” said Coast Guard Capt. Mike Schoonover, division chief for counter narcotics and transnational threats at AFRICOM. “Finally, Operation Junction Rain allows them to demonstrate that capability during real-world law enforcement operations.”
In addition to exercise Obangame Express and Operation Junction Rain, Thetis completed a series of quadrilateral engagements and exercises with the Saõ Tomé and Principe Coast Guard and the Portuguese and Brazilian navies. The four nations conducted multiple engagements including classroom and hands-on training on law enforcement, mission planning, operations, and engineering maintenance.
This was the first time a Coast Guard Cutter deployed to the AFRICOM area of responsibility since 2011. Previously, the service deployed law enforcement detachments, which are smaller teams and have a more limited capability.
“When we deploy a Coast Guard Cutter, that brings with it a multi-mission platform, which is able to make multiple port visits engaging with our African partners,” Schoonover said.
Many African nation maritime forces have similar functionality and responsibilities as the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We bring the ability to teach law enforcement capabilities,” he said. “This can be used to conduct a law enforcement boarding and enforce that nation’s maritime security laws.”
During the deployment, Thetis encountered instances where they had to act quickly to save lives.
On March 14, Thetis conducted a rescue-at-sea of two fisherman approximately 40 miles south of Sierra Leone. The fisherman had been lost at sea for three days and had run out of food, water, and fuel. They were presumed dead by local authorities on March 12.
“The U.S. Coast Guard is known as a rescue service,” said Cmdr. Randall Chong, commanding officer aboard Thetis. “My crew did an amazing job in spotting the vessel, rendering assistance, and working with the Sierra Leone Maritime Authority to bring [the men] back home alive safely.”
Thetis came to the rescue again just a few days later on March 23 when crew members spotted two loggerhead sea turtles tangled in a commercial fishing net. A small boat crew was dispatched, and they were able to free the turtles.
“I joined the Coast Guard to save lives…being able to free those turtles from the net and ensure they could be saved was a unique and special experience to be a part of,” said Coxswain Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Hartfiel.
Though Thetis and its crew may be headed home, Schoonover believes that the deployment will lead to further U.S. Coast Guard engagements in Africa.
“Thetis did a fantastic job,” he said. “There is a definite need for the unique capability that the Coast Guard can bring as we work with our African partners. We look forward to continuing these type of engagements.”
Thetis is a 270-foot Famous-Class Medium-Endurance Cutter homeported in Key West, Florida, specializing in maritime law enforcement operations, specifically counter-narcotics and alien migrant smuggling, and search and rescue operations.