The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball recently returned to its home port in Honolulu following a 42-day, 10,000-nautical-mile Western Pacific patrol that took it all the way to the port city of Kagoshima, Japan.
The Kimball, assigned to the Oahu-headquartered Coast Guard District 14, worked with service members from the Japanese coast guard's 10th District to plan and conduct combined operations and search-and-rescue exercises. The Kimball's crew also met with senior Japanese coast guard leadership and hosted Japanese coast guard service members, U.S. Consulate Fukuoka staff, community leaders and local media aboard the cutter during the port visit.
The deployment, which ended March 10, was in support of Operation Sapphire, a joint agreement between the U.S. and Japanese coast guard signed in May to expand cooperation, according to a news release.
Amid simmering tensions with China and increased concern about maritime crime such as illegal fishing—which the U.S. Coast Guard now considers a greater security issue than high-seas piracy—the service has sought to boost cooperation with countries across the region.
This week the coast guards of Japan and China have traded accusations of illegal incursions into a series of islands between Okinawa and Taiwan that both claim as their own. Japan calls the islands Senkaku ; China calls them Diaoyu.
Commissioned in 2019, the Kimball is the Coast Guard's seventh Legend-class national security cutter and one of two home-ported in Honolulu. At 418 feet long and 54 feet wide, the cutters are among the Coast Guard's largest and newest vessels, with a range of roughly 12, 000 nautical miles. According to the news release, the Coast Guard presented the Kimball's engineering department with an award for its contributions to the service's naval engineering program during the patrol.
"I am extremely proud of our crew's accomplishments, " said the Kimball's commanding officer, Capt. Tom D'Arcy. "Kimball continues to remain on the front lines of the Coast Guard's strategic plan. Our engagements in Japan strengthened our existing relationships with international partners who uphold good maritime governance. Kimball's patrol re-affirmed the U.S. Coast Guard's commitment to facilitating a free and open Indo-Pacific."
The Coast Guard has become more important to America's Pacific strategy in recent years. Along the way to Japan, the Kimball also delivered an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point to Santa Rita, Guam, to bolster its air coverage in the region.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel in Santa Rita are responsible not just for operations around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, but also answer requests for assistance from the island nations of Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The three countries all have treaties with the U.S. called the Compacts of Free Association, which give the U.S. military access to their waters and airspace in return for development aid, visa-free travel to the U.S. and other benefits.
Palau, in particular, has aggressively battled illegal fishing in its waters. Many Pacific island nations lack navies or coast guards of their own to defend their waters from illegal fishing operations and other potential threats. Leaders from both Palau and the FSM have signed agreements for new U.S. bases in their countries and have discussed stationing U.S. Coast Guard assets in their islands to bolster their own small maritime police forces.
But it's not just fish that has regional leaders concerned. Palauan authorities in 2022 called on U.S. Coast Guard to help track a Chinese research vessel that had entered its waters unannounced. A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules based out of Barbers Point flew out to Palau and made radio contact with the vessel's crew members, who told the Americans they were waiting out a storm. Before coming to Palau, the ship had been spotted moving through the maritime territories of India, Malaysia and the Philippines.
This month FSM President David Panuelo accused China of "political warfare " in a letter dated March 9 to other national leaders, alleging that Chinese officials have sought to gain influence across the Pacific islands through bribes, threats and espionage. He wrote that Chinese survey vessels had been operating inside the FSM's ocean territory to map potential resources and submarine travel paths under the guise of research.