PACIFIC OCEAN (May 11, 2012) Cmdr. Mark Morin, chief of the incident management branch of the United States Coast Guard, stands watch as Lt. Karl Hjembo, assigned to Destroyer Squadron 1 observes as part of the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) in the sea combat module aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicolas C. Lopez)

PACIFIC OCEAN - The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1 became the first carrier strike group to participate in the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) May 7-16 during Vinson's transit in the U.S. 7th Fleet and 3rd Fleet areas of operation.

OMSI is a Secretary of Defense program which leverages Department of Defense assets transiting the region to increase the U.S. Coast Guard's maritime domain awareness (MDA), ultimately supporting its maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania. The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for patrolling the waters around the numerous islands associated with the United States throughout the region. Each of these islands have territorial waters stretching out to 12 miles from shore. Beyond that, stretching out to 200 nautical miles is an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area defined by international law that allows each nation exclusive rights to the exploration and use of marine resources. Oceania contains 43 percent, or approximately 1.3 million square miles, of United States' EEZs.

Cmdr. Mark Morin, 14th Coast Guard District's incident management branch chief, stressed the importance of the Navy's joining the USCG and U.S. Navy forces in combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels when possible.

"The IUU vessels are the fishing vessels that don't purchase the necessary permits to fish in either the U.S. and/or foreign EEZs," Morin explained. "These IUU vessels are basically harvesting tuna resources from the U.S. without having to pay for permits. We need to locate and identify these IUU vessels and ensure they face the penalty for breaking the law."

Oceania's vast size, more than 12 million square miles, makes patrol and security markedly difficult, and the Navy's involvement especially promising, said Morin.

"OMSI makes sense because here you have a Navy strike group transiting through that is able to provide that robust assistance to the Coast Guard and our partner nations here in the Western Pacific region," said Lt. Cmdr. Erich Schaller, CSG-1's assistant surface operations officer and liaison for OMSI.

The wide swath of ocean the strike group covers while transiting, coupled with the scope and flexibility of its mission capabilities, derived from their multiple ships and aircraft, grants strike groups a unique ability to assist with MDA, Schaller added.

The potential amount of information which can be collected by strike groups can be useful throughout the region, and Morin hopes the benefit will be seen in the reduction of Oceania's $1.7 billion annual regional gross domestic product loss to IUU fishing. As the USCG and U.S. Navy perform this inaugural carrier strike group OMSI mission, their focus is not only on the successful accomplishment of their mission, but also on "writing the script" for future OMSI missions, Morin said.

"My hope for our OMSI patrol is that we make a positive and profound impact," Schaller said. "As we are going along, we're going to be thinking about observing lessons, building on previous lessons learned, and how that next strike group is going to do it better as they come through. This is going to be a future mission for our ships as they pass through this area, so they will undoubtedly benefit from our experiences on this patrol."