By Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessica Fontenette
The crew of the Famous-class medium endurance cutter USCGC Mohawk (WMEC 913) rescued five sea turtles in the Atlantic ocean, while on a scheduled deployment in the Gulf of Guinea, July 14, 2022.
While standing watch, the officer of the deck identified a commercial fishing net with multiple sea turtles entangled in the line. Crew members were instructed to deploy the small boat and safely rescue the distressed sea turtles from the fishing net.
One crew member, Petty Officer 2nd Class Caitlyn Mason, saved a sea turtle from a fishing net on a previous deployment and jumped at the opportunity to participate in another rescue.
“I’m just glad we were able to get them in time and be able to save five sea turtles,” said Petty Officer Mason. “It’s a respect for the ocean – if there’s anything the crew and I can do to save a life, we will.”
The remaining fishing net was brought aboard to prevent potential hazards to navigation and ensure no other wildlife would be harmed. Fishing gear, like these abandoned nets, inadvertently snare sea turtles, causing them to drown as the heavy gear pulls them away from the surface.
According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) study on marine pollution, over 1 million marine animals, including mammals, fish, sharks, birds, and turtles, are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean.
Cmdr. Derek Cromwell, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) U.S. Coast Guard liaison, said this type of rescue demonstrates the Coast Guard’s multi-mission set and ability to respond to a wide array of maritime duties.
“When most people think of the U.S. Coast Guard, they think of drug interdiction, search and rescue operations, and migrant interdiction, but those are just a few of the many roles and missions we conduct at sea,” said Cromwell. “Another focus area is working with African partners to protect the delicate ecosystem of our oceans.”
Cromwell said part of that commitment to marine environmental protection is derived from how important the maritime domain is to not only America’s security and prosperity, but also to those of all nations.
“The oceans are critical to connecting global markets and providing essential resources,” said Cromwell. “If we can do our part, then I believe we’re on the right track of supporting shared interests that can then create opportunities for greater cooperation with allies and partners.”
While the Mohawk is supporting (NAVEUR-NAVAF) as a part of the Joint Force, they operate as a multi-mission service, responding when needed – including responding to sea turtles as part of the marine environmental protection mission (MEP).
The MEP mission is one of the Coast Guard's eleven statutory missions. As a goal, the MEP mission facilitates the safe, efficient, and sustainable use of the Maritime Transportation System (MTS) by mitigating and reducing the risk of harm to the maritime environment. Through the MEP program, the Coast Guard develops and enforces regulations to avert the introduction of invasive species into the maritime environment, stop unauthorized ocean dumping, and prevent oil and chemical spills.
Additionally, the Department of the Navy’s environmental programs play a vital role in the achievement of our National Defense Strategy. The Navy conducts numerous conservation, restoration, innovation and sustainment efforts to protect the environment, while fulfilling the Navy’s readiness mission.
Mohawk is the 13th and last of the Famous-class cutters. It is named for the Algonquin tribe of Iroquoian Indians who lived in the Mohawk Valley of New York. Mohawk is the third cutter to bear the name. Mohawk’s parent command is U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, headquartered in Portsmouth, Virginia, oversees all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf, spanning across five Coast Guard districts and 40 states.
Mohawk is forward-deployed to the U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) area of operations, while employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet.
For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.