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September 7, 2012

En Route to Phoenix Islands

By Chili Derez

Photo: Chili DerezPhoto: Chili DerezSamoa offered a chance for us to pick up supplies, fuel, and a Maritime Police Enforcement Officer for the next leg of the campaign. The plan is to head to Kiribati, under government request and patrol for illegal fishing vessels that may be taking shark by-catch. I say maybe but we all know they are, the question is how much? First thing we need is fuel. We picked up our anchor and started moving, much to the delight of the long-line fishing fleet we were sharing the harbor with. We passed their boats to crew whistling at us and waving good-bye, little did they realize our intended route was actually right in front of them at the refueling station.

Once this was recognized the crews gathered on the wharf where we were coming alongside. I'm not sure if they had any intentions but Port Control Authority soon sent them back to their respective boats as their numbers were multiplying. The correct fuel connection was located, the refueling went quicker than expected and we were soon back at out anchor point, probably much to the disappointment of the fishing fleet.

The flat water in the harbor gave us a great opportunity to practice launching the jet ski we will be using for boarding these boats and what was required for retrieval. During the transit to the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati, we continued with jet ski training, focusing on launching and retrieval while underway. This was the perfect opportunity for us to make ourselves comfortable, our line positions on the deck, and the added difficulty of movement from the swell. The transit reminded me of last year's trip to Antarctica, with the color of the sky and the swells, I kept expecting to catch an iceberg out of the corner of my eye.

My 4-8 A.M. watch went super fast this morning. Yesterday during our 4-8 afternoon watch we passed into the Phoenix Island Protection Area (PIPA) boundary so all watch keeper's eyes were peeled for any vessels- this is what we are here for. This morning I was woken for watch to the words 'We have a vessel for you'. The normal routine is to be woken 15 minutes before your shift starts, make a cup of tea and stagger up to the wheelhouse. The ship's communal areas are bathed in a red glow so you can navigate or at least stumble your way around without turning any white lights on, which would interfere with your night vision. The wheelhouse is kept in darkness and your eyes soon adjust.

Earlier in the morning an object had shown up on the radar during the previous watch. Five minutes before we came on shift a light was seen on the horizon, confirming it was a vessel and not one of the many uninhabited islands. I tried casting back my mind to the classes I had attended for Coxswains, regarding what different lights signify on vessels. With the binoculars, we watched the dot on the horizon turn into a ship, a purse seiner, probably targeting tuna, but we couldn't do anything until daylight when it would be safe to attempt to board. Once the sun rose, our Enforcement Officer (EO) contacted the vessel over the radio, requesting permission to board. The vessel agreed and sent over a skiff to pick up our EO. While our EO was on board I continued to take notes in the logbook. This included recording when the helicopter onboard the other vessel was deployed to look for fish. Looking at this technology, along with fish finders and radar, it is a wonder that there are any fish left in the sea. It turns out the vessel was there legally, with no contraband so our EO was returned to us with big smiles from the skiff drivers. I feel that this was a great start to practice with an easy, compliant boarding.

During watch every hour we record our position, speed, course, and weather conditions in the logbook. We use the radar to look for target vessels and GPS to maintain the correct course. By having the 4-8 watch, at least I know that I will never be woken from a deep slumber to get ready for a boarding, I get to do that to others! It is a question often on my mind: do I sleep in the clothes I am going to wear (they will get smelly pretty quick though as we do have water restrictions being on a boat) or do I stumble around and change when needed? We are allowed showers every second day and laundry is done by hand washing on the back deck. Being out at sea for such lengths of time without contact makes you really appreciate and miss your family. I would like to do a shout out to my brother whose birthday I am missing while I am here. I want the whole world to know how much I love him and how he means the world to me. I wouldn't be the person I am today if he wasn't in my life. So 'Happy Birthday Little Bro!'

Photo: Chili DerezPhoto: Chili Derez
Photo: Chili DerezPhoto: Chili Derez