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Coast guardsmen deployed to FOL Manta aid local fishermen

A member of a U.S. Coast Guard crew flying from FOL Manta, Ecuador, inspects a container holding a radio and water, similar to the one deployed from their C-130 June 2 to aid Ecuadorian fishermen in distress in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The crew is stationed at Air Station Clearwater, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

A member of a U.S. Coast Guard crew flying from FOL Manta, Ecuador, inspects a container holding a radio and water, similar to the one deployed from their C-130 June 2 to aid Ecuadorian fishermen in distress in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The crew is stationed at Air Station Clearwater, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Petty Officer Second Class Carlos Figueroa, a C-130 navigator, prepares for a mission from FOL Manta, Ecuador. The petty officer, who is fluent in Spanish, maintained radio communication with an Ecuadorian fishing vessel in distress for seven hours during a June 2 mission. The C-130 crew is deployed here from Air Station Clearwater, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

Petty Officer Second Class Carlos Figueroa, a C-130 navigator, prepares for a mission from FOL Manta, Ecuador. The petty officer, who is fluent in Spanish, maintained radio communication with an Ecuadorian fishing vessel in distress for seven hours during a June 2 mission. The C-130 crew is deployed here from Air Station Clearwater, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 crew deployed to FOL Manta, Ecuador, from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., aided the rescue of four local fishermen adrift in the eastern Pacific Ocean June 2. The fishermen were stranded at sea for 18 days, five days of which were without food and one without water. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 crew deployed to FOL Manta, Ecuador, from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., aided the rescue of four local fishermen adrift in the eastern Pacific Ocean June 2. The fishermen were stranded at sea for 18 days, five days of which were without food and one without water. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward)

FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION MANTA, Ecuador -- U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircrews train for a number of different missions, but June 2, a unit deployed to Forward Operating Location Manta, Ecuador, changed the focus of their mission to one that would immediately save four lives.

During routine aerial surveillance operations in search of illegal drug trafficking on the eastern Pacific Ocean, the HC-130H's aircraft commander, Lt. Josh Fitzgerald, deployed from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., noticed something different about one vessel.

As analysts aboard the C-130 monitor imagery, they communicate with the pilots about suspect boats and report as necessary.

"We saw this vessel and knew they were in distress," said Lieutenant Fitzgerald. The crew notified Joint Interagency Task Force-South, an interagency and international group in Key West, Fla., that provides taskings and intelligence for units flying from FOL Manta, that they would begin rescue efforts.

"Our search and rescue training kicked in, and we worked together to provide what we could for them," the lieutenant said.

The crew dropped a container by parachute that held a radio and water from the back of the C-130, and Petty Officer Second Class Carlos Figueroa, the aircraft's navigator and a fluent Spanish-speaker, talked with the Ecuadorian-flagged vessel's master. They learned the four, local fishermen had trouble with the vessel's starter and had been stranded at sea for 18 days, five days of which were without food and one without water. 

A U.S. Navy frigate received the aircrew's report for assistance and approval from JIATF-S to render aid. For seven hours, the Coast guardsmen in the air stayed with the vessel, physically and over radio, to assure the fishermen that help was on its way.

"For them, our presence brought peace of mind. We wanted to let them know they would not be alone," said Lieutenant Fitzgerald. When U.S. Navy personnel arrived on scene, they brought a safety inspection team, hospital corpsman and engine repair team. 

Medical attention was not needed, but the vessel's starter was brought aboard the Navy ship for further repairs. An Ecuadorian Coast Guard vessel, Isla Isabela, later arrived on the scene to assist with the rescue, making it a joint effort. The Coast Guard crew returned to Manta, knowing their U.S. and partner nation counterparts on the water would bring the stranded fishermen home.

Since operations began at FOL Manta, aircrews deployed here have aided the JIATF-S interdiction of 1,758 metric tons of cocaine with a street value of $35.1 billion and contributed to 3,011 arrests.

In 1999, approximately 70 metric tons of cocaine were disrupted through the efforts of JIATF-S and its partner nations. An estimated 229 metric tons were disrupted in 2008, an increase of nearly 230 percent.

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