Disabled Passenger Vessel Rescued Off Northern Mariana Islands
French, Canadian, and U.S. Forces, along with local responders, successfully conducted a search and rescue operation to save the operator and passengers of a distressed vessel off the coast of Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, on July 10.
All 11 people from the center console fishing vessel are now safely in Rota.
At 5:05 p.m. on July 10, Watchstanders at U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam's Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received a distress from the operator of the 21-foot vessel Full 20 Horizon, stating the vessel was disabled and adrift in six-foot seas and 12 mph winds with 11 people aboard, approximately 30 nautical miles northwest of Rota. Due to the lack of GPS onboard and the inability to use a cell phone to acquire a GPS position, the situation became even more critical.
The CNMI Department of Public Safety in Rota launched their 27-foot vessel to aid in the rescue operation. Additionally, partnerships with the U.S. Air Force 36th Wing and U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 at Andersen Air Force Base proved invaluable in securing the assistance of multiple aircraft crews for the response.
A French Air and Space Force A400 Atlas military transport aircraft and crew were the first aircrew to respond, launching from Andersen Air Force Base and locating the vessel at about 8 p.m. after running a search pattern.
The initial rescue attempt by the Department of Public Safety's crew was hindered by severe sea conditions as winds increased to 18 mph and seas built to eight feet, forcing them to abort the mission. However, the French Air and Space Force A400 crew remained on the scene and maintained visual contact with the disabled vessel.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, the crew of USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139), on a port call in Saipan, was recalled, and watchstanders reengaged with HSC-25 to address the evolving circumstances.
Watchstanders also requested additional overhead support from the U.S. Air Force 36th Wing, who offered a Royal Canadian Air Force HC-130 airplane and crew to replace the French crew due to fuel constraints. At 11:15 p.m., the Canadian crew then on scene informed watchstanders that the lights on the distressed vessel went out, but they maintained visual contact with its position.
The U.S. Navy MH-60 Nighthawk helicopter and crew launched to aid the rescue efforts further. After a swift transit, the Nighthawk crew arrived at approximately 1 a.m. and immediately commenced hoisting the operator and passengers. The aircrew transported those rescued to the Rota airport, where local emergency responders and law enforcement met them. The passengers did not report any injuries, and the aircrew did not observe any.
Nine of the 11 people rescued are reportedly citizens the People’s Republic of China. Local law enforcement in Rota is currently addressing these matters. The U.S. Coast Guard said it remains committed to working closely with local authorities to ensure the safety of those at sea and the security of US maritime borders.