USS GARY, At Sea - Guided-missile frigate USS GARY (FFG 51) and its embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment Team (LEDET), TACLET South, turned a routine boarding into a display of joint proficiency and while conducting maritime interception operations in the 4th Fleet Area of Responsibility Jan. 8.
While on patrol in the Eastern Pacific in support of Operation Martillo, Gary encountered a small vessel loaded with cargo that was deemed a contact of interest (COI). The vessel displayed several indicators which constituted reasonable suspicion that it was participating in illicit trafficking.
"There were several indicators that gave us reasonable suspicion that they were involved in transnational organized crime," said Chief Joe Dumm, assistant officer in charge of the LEDET.
Based on these indicators, Gary's LEDET was given permission to board the suspicious vessel by U.S. Coast Guard District 11. In order to facilitate a faster search, the Coast Guard personnel were augmented by Gary's visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) team. Gary's team joined in the boarding and provided support in the searching of approximately 66 tons of cargo.
However, during the course of the suspect vessel's search, it experienced a temporary steering casualty which made the vessel dangerous to operate. Gary's Deck Division mustered on short notice and began preparations to rig for tow in the dead of night.
"The biggest success here was that we had set up the tow rig for an Board of Inspection and Survey Inspection prep recently, and when we were called upon to rig for an actual tow, at night with no prior notice, the previous training paid off," said Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate Deondra Quarles.
To complete the towing evolution, cooperation from the boarding team aboard the suspect vessel was necessary. The composite Navy VBSS and USCG LEDET team rose to the occasion.
"Each member of the boarding team managed to play an adaptive role. A VBSS member took the helm of the boat while LEDET members hand-tended the line from the GARY, and members of both teams simultaneously managed the security and safety of the vessel's crew while securing the tow line," said Lt. j.g. Christian Gotcher, Gary's VBSS officer in charge.
With the suspect vessel secured by 580 feet of tow line astern of the Gary, the boarding team was able to complete the search. Ultimately, no illicit cargo was found on board. The suspect vessel eventually resolved the issues affecting their steering system, after which, the boarding team disembarked and the tow line was untied. All of this occurred over the course of two days at sea.
"This was a difficult boarding and presented us with a large number of challenges. The professionalism and skill of the crew and LEDET allowed us to complete a safe and efficient boarding," said Cmdr. James Brown, commanding officer of USS Gary.
Gary is homeported in San Diego and is currently deployed to Central and South America in support of Operation Martillo and U.S. 4th Fleet's mission, Southern Seas 2012.
Operation Martillo (Spanish for "hammer") is a U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus. U.S. military participation is being led by Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command.
Operation Martillo is part of the U.S. government's coordinated regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America Security Initiative.
Fourteen countries are participating: Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.