[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
A little before nine a.m. I felt the ship turn hard right rudder, so I went up to the bridge. We spotted a fishing boat on the radar. The captain says that drug smugglers often use fishing boats as mother ships for go fasts. The go fasts will bring the drugs out to the mother ship, the mother ship will ship them north, where another go fast will pick up the drugs and bring them ashore. Or the mother ship will act as a refueler. Or any one of a number of possible combinations.
Ops (operations officer LT James Terrell) confers with Captain Lloyd. The vessel hasn’t answered our hail but we’ve seen buoys in the water, they’ve got pots on deck and a line out. The vessel is a legitimate fishing vessel. We come down its starboard hull at a safe distance so our wake won’t disturb their work (we’re running the port turbine and making 22 knots) and peel off. “Just exercising our muscles,” the captain says.
As the captain points out, while we were querying the fishing boat, the majority of the crew was doing a field day, which means deep cleaning the ship (everywhere you looked, including the bridge where the action was taking place, there were people with whisk brooms, dust pans, rags and bottles of cleaning fluid). It’s a regular Saturday morning chore, which (barring emergencies) is a light work day when the regular crew is off.
AT 1400 Ltjg. Kevin Beaudoin, aka Weps which is short for Weapons Officer, holds a briefing on Alien Migration Interdiction Operations, or what we do if we pick up a boatload of migrants. He has issued a briefing memo for all attending, which is everyone from the EO (Engineer Officer LT. Todd Raybon) to the food service officer (FSCS George Minos). Due to what sounds like long experience the Coasties have a plan for every possible contingency, and as Captain Lloyd says, that will leave them free to deal with the unexpected emergencies that invariably crop up. Engineering provides a place to poop, pee and shower. The FSO provides three meals a day. The doc (Chief Eugene Mason) puts three people on call for medical emergencies. The LEO (Law Enforcement Officer LTJG John Holderman) provides security and records events with film, digital and video cameras.
They even go into the details of how to get babies on board, on a boat via the hoist versus handing up over the side. Nix on the latter, too dangerous, and they can turn the boat around quick enough if they have a lot of migrants to board. Chief Marc Blecman, in charge of providing clothing and blankets (in line at breakfast my first day on board he introduced himself as “the head maid”), makes a good point—after migrants have been floating around for three weeks, eating bad food and getting no exercise, none of them are going to be in any shape to climb a jacob’s ladder. It is decided that the best bet for all around safety will be a combination of jacob’s ladder and accomodation ladder. The migrants’ meals are required to be bland so as not to overload the sanitation measures. Senior Chief Minos says we have 500 pounds of red beans and rice on board, so no worries anyone is going hungry.
It’s like listening to someone set up a small, temporary town. Kinda not wondering anymore why the Coast Guard was the best thing that happened to New Orleans after Katrina (see also here). The discussion bleeds over a little bit into what happens if we pick up detainees, which is the official term for suspected drug smugglers. Mostly we’ll be dealing with much smaller numbers, as go fasts only hold about six people. A lot less stress on personnel and supplies but a lot more attention paid to legalities.
They’ll be doing a walk through of the AMIO process later in the week. I get to be a migrant. I am humbled by the honor.
That afternoon the bridge pipes steel beach, and I go aft to find half a dozen lines in the water and hamburgers on the grill. This is my kind of ship.