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USCG Aircraft and Merchant Vessel Rescue Mariner Off Tahiti

Twenty-Day Ordeal Ends Well

On Friday, 16 June 2023, the United States Coast Guard and the crew of the merchant vessel Baker Spirit cooperated in the rescue of a mariner stranded on the open South Pacific Ocean some 1,210-nautical-miles north of the French Polynesian island nation of Tahiti.

An Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules located the imperiled mariner after being given his last known position by the Coast Guard’s Tahiti Rescue Coordination Center facility. The aircraft, upon locating the wayward seaman, conducted three drops of life-saving equipment which included food rations, life rafts, and communication equipment.

USCG Petty Officer First-Class Joshua Birkner, a search-and-rescue duty-officer at Coast Guard District 14, stated: “This recent search and rescue operation stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment and remarkable capabilities of our international partners. The outcome of this search-and-rescue case highlights the significance of effective communication between our partners in the Pacific, the diligence of our aircrews, and willingness to assist from high-seas mariners.”

On 28 May, at 06:30 New Zealand Daylight Time (UTC +13), the USCG’s New Zealand Rescue Coordination Center received notification that the ocean rower Smiles was in need of assistance after high-seas disabled the vessel’s electrical, navigation, and communication systems.

USCG RCC New Zealand watchstanders were notified of Smiles’s predicament by YouTube viewers; the vessel’s sole occupant had been posting his trip to the online platform. The sudden cessation of uploads prompted followers of the individual’s channel to notify authorities.

Receiving word of a possible vessel in distress, RCC New Zealand requested assistance from RCC Alameda, which diverted two merchant vessels, the Voyager and the Mandalay, to assist in the search for Smiles.

On 31 May USCG RCC Tahiti assumed primary responsibility for the ongoing search-and-rescue effort after receiving alerts of a vessel in distress approximately 1,240-nautical-miles northeast of Tahiti. RCC Tahiti requested three merchant vessels operating in the area to join in the search while a safety net broadcast continued.

An Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircrew, then in Tahiti assisting with a separate search and rescue mission, flew upwards of four hours before arriving on scene, locating Smiles’s lone occupant adrift on a life-raft, and dropping emergency supplies thereto.

On 16 June, at approximately 13:08 NZDT, the merchant vessel Baker Spirit recovered the mariner and resumed its passage to Oahu.

The rescued individual was reported to be in stable condition.

Created by Congress as the Revenue-Marine on 04 August 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is the oldest continuously operating naval service of the United States. The Semper Paratus (Always Ready) motto to which the Coast Guard aspires speaks to the outfit’s ethos and the nature of its humanitarian and security missions.

Stated simply, the Coast Guard protects the United States' borders and defends her sovereignty by safeguarding sea lines of communication and commerce across 95,000-miles of U.S. coastline and the entirety of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. This critical work is carried out by 44,500 active-duty personnel, 7,000 reservists, and 8,577 full-time civilian employees.

The USCG’s fleet of roughly 250 coastal and ocean-going cutters, patrol ships, buoy tenders, tugs, and icebreakers; as well as nearly two-thousand small boats and specialized craft constitutes the world’s 12th largest naval force. The service’s aviation division comprises north of two-hundred helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft the likes of the AC-37A (Gulfstream V), HC-144A (Airbus CN-235), and Lockheed’s mighty HC-130 Hercules utility turboprop transport. To supplement the aforementioned and better support its homeland security and search & rescue operations, the Coast Guard is building an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program around General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper platform.

In its humanitarian capacity, the U.S. Coast Guard saves tens-of-thousands of lives every year and provides emergency response and disaster management for all manner of man-made emergencies, meteorological exigencies, and outright natural disasters.



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