Three fast-response U.S. Coast Guard cutters are being sent to Guam to help monitor the high seas in light of increased drug-trafficking activity as well as illegal fishing in the Western Pacific and Oceania.
Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, shared some details of the plan to homeport three fast-response cutters on Guam “over the next two to three years.”
Schultz spoke at a global teleconference with U.S. and international media organizations while visiting the Philippines on Monday.
“The addition of these cutters will significantly increase U.S. Coast Guard presence throughout the region,” Schultz said, adding that island nations affiliated with or are partners with the United States could use some help keeping watch over their exclusive economic zones.
The new fast-response cutters can travel for five days at a speed of 28 knots, according to the Coast Guard.
“This increased capability will allow more frequent and longer patrols to protect Exclusive Economic Zones from illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing threats as well as defend against increasing drug trafficking in the region,” Schultz said. Guam has seen packages of cocaine wash up on island shores.
He added: “I would tell you that the Coast Guard is doubling down in Oceania, and I mentioned the homeporting of three fast response cutters, 154-foot cutters, in Guam over the next couple of years. We’re focused on building out the capabilities of our partner island nations, and that’s really to help them deal with a wide range of concerns regarding their sovereignty. Whether that’s … fishing, whether that’s drug trafficking in the region, we are there to help them.”
“Many of these countries are small island nations,” Schultz said. “They have finite capacity. And we’re there to help them build their resolve, understand their authorities, do some partnering.”
Schultz also acknowledged China’s militarization of what once were reefs in the Spratly Islands which are being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. One of these former reefs, Fiery Cross Reef, also called Kagitingan or Courage Reef by the Philippines, now has Chinese buildings and an airstrip.
Schultz said: “I would say we’ve seen places like Fiery Cross Reef that went from non-existent just about, to a manmade island, to now the military capabilities being present here, whether that’s fighter aircraft on the ground or not. So, we are clearly seeing a rhetoric that says: ‘No, we’re not militarizing’ the region in the past years, and then we see the behaviors that indicate otherwise,” Schultz said of China. “I think if you look at China’s One Belt and Road Initiative, if you look at the Polar Silk Road Initiative, there’s clearly sort of a roadmap where China’s looking at increasing its access across the globe.”
In Greenland, he said, “China had been expressing some interest in partnering with their airport development and some possible seaport opportunities.”
China’s research vessel, the Snow Dragon, has been in Greenland six of the last nine years, the admiral said, “So I think China clearly is – has some expansive intent, but I’m going to leave it limited to that.”