NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN -- Four Bahraini men, adrift in fishing skiff for two days, were assisted by the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSBI (I) 15) approximately 30 nautical miles off the coast of Bahrain, Nov. 9.
It was the second such event for Ponce in the past year and another of a growing list of accomplishments the ship has achieved since joining U.S. 5th Fleet in June 2012 under Commander, Task Force 51.
The four men, ages 18 to 24, were stranded after the skiff's battery failed, leaving them adrift with a short supply of food and water.
Ponce watch standers recognized a distress signal from the boat and the ship moved to provide assistance. The fishermen were brought aboard Ponce and were provided food and water.
"There is one law of the sea that trumps all others," Ponce Commanding Officer, Capt. Jon P. Rodgers said. "Sailors render aid to other Sailors. We were fortunate to find these four Bahrain fishermen who had been adrift for two days."
Ponce's crew provided food and water to the fishermen and after simple repairs were unsuccessful, Ponce remained with the vessel until the Bahraini coast guard arrived to tow the skiff back to shore.
In October 2012, Ponce rescued the crews of two small Bahraini skiffs that were discovered foundering amid a hailstorm, 30 nautical miles northeast of Bahrain. With the skiffs in tow, Ponce returned to port in Bahrain where the seven rescued fishermen and their boats were transferred to the Bahraini coast guard.
"Ponce, with her hybrid crew of Navy and civilian seamen, embodies the spirit of the maritime tradition whereby all mariners are inherently responsible for the safety and security of their fellow sailors," Commander, Task Force 51, Brig. Gen. Gregg P. Olson said.
Ponce received a second chance at life after being saved from the retirement list to be reconfigured and re-designated from an amphibious transport dock (LPD) to an AFSB(I) in April 2012. She is commanded by a U.S. Navy captain and her unique crew composition consists of 55 Navy Sailors and 165 civilian mariners.
Since joining U.S. 5th Fleet June 2012, Ponce has continuously provided a platform for fleet and other service components to exercise capabilities and ensure safety and security for mariners and partners in the region.
Shortly after arriving on station in the Arabian Gulf, the 42-year-old ship played an integral role in the inaugural International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 2012 where more than 30 navies participated in a 3-phase exercise to enhance mine countermeasures interoperability. She has since supported IMCMEX 2013 and mine countermeasures exercises between the U.S. Navy and Royal navy.
In addition to the legacy capabilities of a well deck, flight deck, cargo stowage, crane, and embarked berthing spaces, Ponce serves as a repair ship with fully functional machine, metal, valve, hydraulic, and filter shops, as well as specialized areas for mine countermeasures, special forces, riverine commando boats, joint forces, and partnership/coalition embarks.
Ponce is complimented by embarked Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles and while there are no aircraft assigned to Ponce, she has a busy underway flight deck that receives the full assortment of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters as well as AV-8B Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys and U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64D Apache helicopters.
Ponce's future is paved with ancient ingenuity and modern innovation. Early in 2014, she will put in for a brief dry dock period where scheduled maintenance will be conducted. Because she had been slated for decommission before being re-designated, it has been more than eight years since Ponce's last dry-dock period.
Also in 2014, Ponce will receive the first operational installation of the Navy's Laser Weapon System (LaWS). LaWS uses a solid state infrared beam to defend the ship by destroying or crippling swarming boats and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks. It demonstrates the Navy's ability to quickly deliver advanced capability to forward deployed forces and leadership in fielding directed energy technologies.
Ponce will steam into mid-2014 with an enhanced capability to conduct maritime security operations and mine countermeasures operations and it is expected that the AFSB concept will be operating forward in the region for years to come.
"Ponce provides a necessary capability to U.S. 5th Fleet," Olson said. "As a proven platform for interoperability, she continuously demonstrates the capability to support joint military components and partner navies in ensuring regional security in the maritime domain."