SAN DIEGO -- The crew of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43) returned to port, June 28 following five days at sea training and operating with U.S. Coast Guardsmen from the Coast Guard's 11th District and the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team (TACLET). Under Federal law, the Coast Guard is the only armed forces branch with maritime law enforcement authorities. Law Enforcement Detachment teams (LEDETs) deploy with the Navy in the Third Fleet area of operations to conduct and support maritime law enforcement, interdiction and security operations.
"We are supporting law enforcement operations to curtail illegal drug and migrant smuggling in the region," said Thach Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Lisa B. Hodgson. "Here our focus is interception, or at a minimum, disruption of these dangerous and destructive criminal activities."
The joint operation between the two branches has proven successful. "Recently, the Coast Guard embarked with the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz (FFG 46) coupled with an anti-submarine helicopter squadron light (HSL), seizing approximately 1,500 pounds, or 51 bales, of marijuana while detaining three suspected smugglers," said Lt. Cmdr. John Schiller, Third Fleet's future operations deputy and maritime homeland defense lead. "You have the world's premier Coast Guard and the world's premier Navy and we're operating in the same environment intercepting illicit narcotics and migrants," said 11th District Counter Drug Officer Lt. Peter Deneen. Both the Navy and the Coast Guard train together while at sea and benefit from one another's resources and areas of expertise.
"Navy ships and systems provide valuable support and resources to the overall interdiction effort. Our crews' skills, ship's systems and communications capabilities help the entire process from intelligence to surveillance to interception," said Hodgson. "In the event of a pursuit, we shift tactical control of Navy ships from Third Fleet to the 11th District, raise a Coast Guard flag on the ship's rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) and place a Coast Guard boarding team under Coast Guard authority," said Deneen. "Our relationship with the Coast Guard is seamless," said Thach Master-at-Arms 1st Class Jason E. Jones. "The Coast Guardsmen, who are all subject matter experts in vessel boarding and law enforcement, easily integrate with our Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team."
While the Coast Guard is much smaller, its unique legal authority to enforce maritime law makes it an invaluable interagency partner with the Navy.
"We're pretty happy with the results thus far and we just hope to expand our interoperability with the Coast Guard and we look for the opportunity to affect the maritime law enforcement operations in Southern California when and if available," said Schiller. Thach Sailors also spent the week exercising total ship survivability while training Midshipmen, performing helicopter deck landing qualifications, submarine hunting and executing routine ship maintenance. Joint, interagency and international relationships strengthen U.S. Third Fleet's ability to respond to crises and protect the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners.