JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) P-3 Orions, assigned to Jacksonville, Fla., were involved in three Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) events, two in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and one in the Caribbean Sea. Millions of miles of empty ocean surround the fishermen and merchant mariners, many times far out of sight of other ships and traditional radio contact.
On April 13, a CBP P-3 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft operating from Panama City, Panama pointed out a vessel for a partner aircraft to positively identify by name. Upon arriving on scene, the partner aircraft visually confirmed the name of the Costa Rican fishing vessel, the LUZ MARINA, approximately 180 miles south of Panama. After continuing on their mission, the CBP AEW was notified by the Joint Inter Agency Task Force that the LUZ MARINA had been identified as a vessel in distress, and the CBP P-3 crew provided direction to a nearby U.S. Navy (USN) vessel to enable them to assist the vessel. The LUZ MARINA had suffered a steering and engine casualty, and the USN ship assisted in essential repairs to the vessel.
Two days later, a CBP P-3 Long Range Tracker (LRT) also deployed to Panama City, Panama, received notification that an Ecuadorean fishing vessel MICHELE, was reported to have been adrift for days and low on both food and water. The crew’s continued survival was in question. The CBP P-3 LRT proceeded to the last known position of the vessel and quickly acquired radar and radio contact with the MICHELE. While enroute, the P-3 LRT contacted another fishing vessel in the vicinity, the Costa Rican fishing vessel CAPTAIN JORGE who, at 12 miles away from the vessel in distress, was their best and only hope for timely assistance. Once the condition of F/V MICHELE was assessed as dire, the F/V CAPTAIN JORGE abandoned its fishing site and set, made best speed closing toward, and provided assistance to the struggling F/V MICHELE in accordance with maritime law.
Proving they can save lives in all areas, the same CBP LRT crew was again in the “right place, right time” while in patrol during their return from Panama on April 16. While transiting the Caribbean Sea, they received communications of a potential vessel in distress approximately 200 miles northeast of La Ceiba, Honduras. The crew proceeded to the search area and discovered a Cuban hand-made raft. The raft, rudimentarily built using old tires and wood as it carried 15 people, was headed toward the South at 3-4 knots on a single engine. The CBP LRT immediately coordinated a life-saving response with other partner assets in the region to ensure the people onboard the raft would survive the night. The CBP crew performed a hot hand-off, transferring on-scene command responsibility to another U.S. aircraft in the area, which remained on-scene until a rescue boat arrived.
Primarily tasked with the role of Counter-Narcotics and Counter-Terrorism patrols in the region, the highly trained crews of CBP OAM fluidly transition from task to task and mission to mission, preventing narcotics, weapons, and terrorists from entering the U.S. while helping to ensure the safety of others throughout the region. The National Air Security Operations Center (NASOC) Jacksonville, Fla., and its sister office National Air Security Operations Center (NASOC) Corpus Christi, Texas, are out there every day, patrolling the Americas, helping to safeguard the U.S. and its regional partners from the growing Narco-Terrorism threat.