U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Washington recently visited Ulithi Atoll to deliver humanitarian supplies and teach locals about safe boating practices. Washington, a 110-foot patrol boat out of Guam, delivered rice, rainwater collectors, school books, clothing and outboard boat engines. These supplies were much needed on the small islands that make up the atoll, as the ship that normally delivers cargo to the atoll has been unable to make the voyage for almost a year due to mechanical problems.
Ulithi Atoll, located in the Federated States of Micronesia, played a major role during World War II. The Navy used the sheltered atoll to repair and resupply its fleet in the Pacific. That history is still very much alive in Ulithi. Remnants of the Pacific Fleet can still be seen everywhere, from an old seaplane ramp to discarded glass bottles. The Coast Guard plays a prominent role in that history, as the service maintained a long range navigation station in the atoll throughout the war and for several years after. One of the elders on Mogmog Island even told the crew he had been raised by Coast Guardsmen after his mother had died in 1947. “The Chief of my island made a deal and I lived at the station until 1952. The cook took care of me,” he said.
In addition to delivering much needed goods, Washington’s crew taught boating safety classes on both Falalop Island and Mogmog Island. These classes covered everything from pre-voyage planning and notifications to radio distress calls and what to do if lost at sea.
“The people of Ulithi are very adept at operating small boats, but they did not have a good understanding of how the Coast Guard searches for small vessels in distress,” said Lt. Nate MacKenzie, Washington’s commanding officer. “This training gave us the opportunity to explain simple things they could do to drastically increase their chance of being rescued.”
“Something as simple as a soda can cut open and tied to a paddle can help us locate a small vessel with our radar. Small actions like this often mean the difference between a rescue with a happy ending and tragic loss of life at sea,” added Ensign Chris Jones.
As a way of saying thanks, the islanders gave the crew fresh coconuts, hand-made flower headbands, shells and even a lesson in basketball. The locals triumphed in a pickup game 74 to 71. A few lucky members of the crew were even given a tour of Mogmog, the traditional chief island in the atoll. Residents are required to wear traditional clothing and few outsiders are allowed to visit. The crew did their best to comply with the dress code, in spite of being granted an exemption as guests. Seaman Ryan Dixon summed up the experience, saying, “It was out of this world. Just really cool.”
“Washington’s motto reads ‘Our Cause is Noble.’ During the two days spent in Ulithi, we definitely lived up to those words,” said MacKenzie of the visit. “We taught people how to stay safe on the water, delivered humanitarian supplies,and maintained a long tradition of positive relations between the U.S. Coast Guard and the proud people of Ulithi. It doesn’t get much better than that.”