News: Coast Guard, Gitmo Keep Migrant Ops about Safety
Story by Pfc. Eric Liesse
By Pfc. Eric Liesse
Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Public Affairs
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ocracoke, like all Coast Guard cutters, has multiple missions. One of the most important and recurring missions is alien migration interdiction operations.
"The main purpose of (this mission) is the safety of life at sea," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class William Martinez, a leading crewman aboard the Ocracoke.
"The reasons we do AMIO is because vessels are usually overloaded or the conditions are unsafe for migrants on board," Martinez continued. "Vessels are usually piloted by someone with little, if any, maritime knowledge."
The Ocracoke, which docked here twice between missions in recent weeks, has assisted in AMIO for over 20 years. First commissioned in 1986 at U.S. Coast Guard Base, New Orleans, the ship was home-ported at U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, until it recently moved to Coast Guard Sector – Miami Beach.
"We believe [AMIO] is more search and rescue," said Luis Diaz, deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Coast Guard District 7. The development of the cutter class of ship in the 1980s was brought on mainly by the war on drugs, which migration can also effect. Diaz added, "All Coast Guard cutters are multi-missioned."
Cutters were created mainly for AMIO, counter-drug operations and security missions, such as patrolling ports and military bases.
When the Ocracoke intercepts a vessel, either by spotting it or through intelligence from outside sources, procedures are the same.
"We find them in the water when we're out there, either by coming across them or an aircraft spots them and lets us know where they're at. Sometimes we get intelligence from a source that says, 'I saw a boat that is 30 foot long and has 100 people on it.' Then, we try to locate them," Martinez explained.
If the migrants accept help and are brought on board, the crew gives lifejackets, food, water and other necessities, depending on the situation. Then, they are taken back to their country of origin.
"Guantanamo is kind of the epicenter (of AMIO)," said Coast Guard Lt. Chris Keene, captain of the Ocracoke, "This becomes the major staging ground for holding and processing."
Should a large-scale incident occur, Joint Task Force and the Naval Station play a large role in overall Caribbean migrant operations.
Army Maj. Ricardo Giron, officer in charge of migrant operations for J-3, said "boots-on-the-ground training" is the best way to prepare Guantanamo Bay for a possible large-scale migrant operation. Holding encompassing training exercises, with role-players, table-top planning and involving many different government organizations, is an effective way to prepare.
Though a mass migration would encumber Guantanamo, Giron said extensive plans are developed to help offset its effects. The main limitation would be space to house migrants, he added.
Should a mass migration occur, a "tent city" would be erected on the Leeward side of base, "to minimize interference with day-to-day operations on the Windward side," Giron said.
From one cutter, to a naval base, to an entire Coast Guard district, migrant operations are ever-present. However, at all levels, safety of life at sea is always a chief concern.