PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command (MSC) dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1) is currently operating off the coast of Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati, as part of her continuing participation in Exercise KOA MOANA 15-3 (KM 15-3).
During KM 15-3, the U.S. Navy (USN), Coast Guard (USCG) and Marine Corps (USMC) will partner counterparts from various Pacific island nations (PIN) within Oceania, to conduct maritime security with participating host nations from.
"This is really a unique exercise in the fact that we have a Marine Corps element, a Coast Guard element, and the Navy supporting both," said Navy Capt. Paul D. Hugill, commodore of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron TWO (MPSRON-2).
Lewis and Clark, which is also part of MPSRON-2, will serve as the delivery platform and law enforcement vehicle during KM 15-3.
The Marines involved in the exercise will disembark Lewis and Clark at various ports to interact with host nation military and law enforcement. These events will include jungle hikes, survival training, river crossing, rafting, and community outreach events.
USCG assets will partner with their host nation counterparts to conduct Oceanic Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) operations on board the Lewis and Clark.
OMSI is a Secretary of Defense program aimed at diminishing transnational illegal activity on the high seas and enhancing regional security and interoperability with partner nations.
The Coast Guard is responsible for patrolling the waters around the territories associated with the U.S. throughout the South Pacific region. Each of these islands has territorial waters stretching out to 12 miles from shore. Beyond that, stretching out 200 nautical miles are exclusive economic zones (EEZs), an area defined by international law that allows each nation exclusive rights to the exploration and use of marine resources.
During the KM 15-3 OMSI mission, the USCG liaison officer, along with Lewis and Clark crew members and host nation partners, will patrol the host nation EEZ.
Once a target of interest is identified, a joint boarding team will board the vessel, searching for fishery-type violations and ensuring the vessels are operating within the scope of their permits.
Another type of boarding conducted during OMSI patrols are U.S.-led boardings carried out under the authority that's been granted to the Coast Guard by the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), a 43-nation regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) that strives to create a management scheme that will ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
The OMSI program leverages Department of Defense assets transiting the region to increase the Coast Guard's maritime domain awareness, ultimately supporting maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.
To put the USNS Lewis and Clark in a law enforcement role, the Coast Guard and the Navy coordinate tactical control (TACON) of the vessel. Here, TACON is coordinated between Commander, Task Force-73 in Singapore, and Coast Guard District 14 in Honolulu.
"When we get into an area where we know we are going to be doing a law enforcement-type action, Coast Guard District 14 will request TACON be shifted from CTF-73," said Hugill. "They will accept and the Coast Guard will acknowledge they have TACON, which then puts the vessel in a law enforcement role."
The Navy's role is to support the Marine Corps and Coast Guard mission.
Exercise KM 15-3 is a four-month international exercise which commenced in Tahiti, and continued into Fiji. After Tarawa, the Lewis and Clark will transit to Vanuatu before finalizing TSC events in Timor Leste. The Lewis and Clark is scheduled to return to its homeport in early December.
For more news from Commander, Task Force 73, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/ctf73/.