Local Cutter Makes History in Far East

U. S. Coast Guard    Family members look on from the shore as a pair of escort tugs accompany Alameda-based United States Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf through the Oakland Estuary on Jan. 20. On March 24 and 25, the Bertholf joined the U.S. Navy’s Missile Destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur on a transit through the Taiwan Strait.

Bertholf first Coast Guard cutter to ply the Taiwan Strait

Last Sunday and Monday, March 24 and 25, were historic days for the United States Coast Guard. The service’s Legend-Class Maritime Security Cutter Bertholf joined the U.S. Navy’s USS Curtis Wilbur in what the Navy spokesperson Lt. Joseph Keiley called “a routine Taiwan Strait transit in accordance with international law.” 

The transit was scarcely routine in the Coast Guard’s eyes, however. The Alameda-based Bertholf became the first Coast Guard cutter to sail through the strait that separates the People’s Republic of China on the mainland of Asia from the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan.  

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Keiley told the Japan Times that broke the story on Monday. “The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

USNI News’ Ben Werner reports the  a week before its transit of the strait, “Bertholf completed a patrol in the East China Sea, assisting in the enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions designed to prevent illicit ship-to-ship transfers at sea of commodities to and from North Korea.”

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman commented immediately upon learning of Curtis Wilbur and Bertholf’s transit of the Taiwan Strait. Ministry spokesmen Geng Shuang stated that “China has closely monitored and been fully aware of American warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait.” Geng also stated that the U.S. should “abide by the one-China principle, so as not to harm China relations.” 

The Japan Times reports that in the past year, “the U.S. has increased the frequency of what it called ‘freedom of navigation operations’ in the Pacific Ocean.” This latest voyage through the strait marked the third such operation this year.

Following the transit, Bertholf was scheduled to arrive at a military-civilian port on South Korea’s Jeju Island.

According to the Navy Times, the Bertholf and Curtis Wilbur’s transit coincides with the Trump administration’s “tacit approval for Taiwan to buy more than 60 F-16V fighters, part of the Republic of China’s continuing effort to upgrade its aging fleet of Fighting Falcons.