U.S. Coast Guard Brings Water to Drought-Stricken Pacific Island

Oliver Berry offloads potable water to a tanker truck at the pier in Kiritimati, Republic of Kiribati (USCG)

Published Jul 10, 2022 11:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard is investing in increased reach in the South Pacific, where it is often the most visible U.S. government presence in far-flung island nations. Its new fast response cutters - small but seaworthy long-range patrol vessels - have been a key asset for this effort, and several are permanently forward-deployed at Guam and Honolulu. Their relatively high 28-knot speed and their 2,500-nm range are valuable for extended reach in the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. 

One of these FRCs - the Honolulu-based USCGC Oliver Berry - recently deployed to the Republic of Kiribati to help fend off the worst effects of a drought. The Berry headed to the remote island of Kirimati (Christmas Island) after the republic declared an emergency over the local shortage of drinking water. 

Kiritimati - the world's biggest coral atoll - is located about 1,200 miles to the south of Hawaii. It is the largest island in Kiribati, and it has a population of about 7,000 people. The low-lying atoll has relatively limited groundwater resources, and a severe drought over the past six months has endangered its water supply. The government of Kiribati issued a nationwide disaster declaration in June due to the growing hazard, and the Coast Guard joined other international partners to mount a response. 

Over two days, the crew of the Berry carried out offloads of potable drinking water, working with representatives of the aid organization UNICEF. They maintained strict COVID-19 precautions to protect the island's inhabitants. In addition, they carried out a law-enforcement patrol of a part of the Kiribati EEZ, contributing to the USCG's regional maritime-security partnership effort. 

Courtesy USCG

“Our crew is excited and humbled for the opportunity to support the people of Kiribati,” said Lt. Micah Howell, commanding officer of the Berry. “Thanks to the coordination efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, and the Kiribati Government, we are able to provide safe drinking water to the Island of Kiritimati at a time when it is needed most."