Waterfront Operations unit members Elizer Castillones, at the wheel, and Atley Joseph headed out during Coast Guard rescue exercises in Kaneohe Bay earlier this month. The Navy unit is responsible for search-and-rescue operations from Kahuku to Makapuu since the Coast Guard does not have any boats assigned to Windward Oahu.

Navy to the rescue
at Kaneohe Bay

Training and awareness help
the search-and-rescue unit
locate a stranded boater

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Within a minute after getting a distress call from the Honolulu Fire Department, the Navy's search-and-rescue operations at Kaneohe Bay launched two boats and combed the waters a half mile off of Mokolii Islandfor a man who had fallen overboard.

But the call passed on to the Kaneohe Bay's Waterfront Operations from the Fire Department gave the wrong location and the Navy rescue boats could not find the victim. So the search pattern was widened. Moving eastward, the Fire Department's bright yellow helicopter spotted the man clinging to a buoy several miles east of his first reported location.

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gerard Kalani, who heads the search-and-rescue operations at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said "that's what sometimes happens. We responded to the location given us, but the helicopter has a wider search pattern and was able to find him. But regardless we respond to every emergency."

Kalani estimates that on average his 21-member Waterfront Operations is involved in at least three "rescues" a month. These range from life-threatening situations to problems of boaters running out of gas or experiencing engine problems.

Since the Coast Guard has no rescue boats assigned to Windward Oahu, his Navy unit is responsible for search-and-rescue operations from Kahuku to Makapuu. Kalani's Waterfront Operations are conducted around the clock, seven days a week, with a crew of four on alert after a normal duty day concludes.

Waterfront Operations has a special boat on standby in the event of hazardous materials spills. This one, docked earlier this month, has enough containment booms on board to completely surround Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay.

However, Kalani, a 1981 Waiakea High School graduate from the Big Island, is quick to point out that Windward Oahu operations are a cooperative effort with the Coast Guard and the Fire Department. Both the Coast Guard and the Fire Department maintain helicopters which are crucial in ocean rescues. At least three times each week Kaneohe Bay's search-and-rescue crews and boats train with Coast Guard helicopters to refine their skills.

Besides search and rescue operations, the unit's other mission is to aid in the cleanup efforts whenever an oil spill occurs in the Kaneohe Bay area. Boxes containing bright orange and black booms used to isolate and contain spilled oil are strategically located around Kaneohe Bay on Coconut Island and Makalani Kai pier.

With the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by terrorists on Sept. 11, the Navy Waterfront Operations also took on an added security mission. "The entire base is surrounded by water," said Kalani who has been in the Navy for 21 years, "so we help the provost marshal's office and assist in water security."

The unit also is on call whenever Kaneohe Bay Marines are performing any type of military operation over and in the waters around the Windward Oahu base.

The unit is equipped with 16 boats, ranging in sizes from 16 feet to 28 feet. Two of the boats are rigged solely to help in combating oil spills. One is loaded with oil containment booms and the other is a small oil skimmer. There is also a jet ski included in the unit's flotilla.

Three of the 21 unit members are qualified search-and-rescue swimmers, having successfully completed an eight-week course in San Diego.

Last week, two small boats from the unit were in the bay working with a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Kalaeloa as it practiced retrieving swimmers from the water.

Kalani said the reefs in and around Kaneohe Bay can be difficult to navigate since there are so many of them and at times the small boats are skimming along at top speed on a rescue mission.

"Kaneohe Bay is especially hard to navigate especially at night," he added, "because of these reefs."

It takes at least six months for coxswain to get qualified because of these conditions. "We really do ensure that these guys get good training, especially for night operations.

Kalani recalled that during the three years he has been at Kaneohe Bay one of most exciting and dangerous operations occurred a little after midnight when a distress call came in from a fisherman who had lost power on his boat. "The seas were running extremely rough, as I recall," he said. "It must have been anywhere from 12 to 15 feet.

"The water was coming in over his deck and he refused to leave his boat. Eventually, with a lot of coaxing, the Fire Department was able to get him off the boat." Kalani explained that in cases like he Fire Department or the Coast Guard has the only authority to order boaters to leave their vessel.

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