The “Deadliest Catch” fishermen have got nothing on New York City’s Coast Guard unit, Sector New York.
We embedded with the unit on a routine nighttime stop and search mission to intercept two ships coming into New York harbor. The conditions were tough, and they conduct these missions year round through any kind of weather and in the heat of day or dead of night.
They do it 12 miles out in the Atlantic ocean where American waters begin, the wind charges in from the north, and if things go wrong, there’s no one to call for help until it’s too late.
The boarding team we’re with is made up of six Coast Guardsmen ranging from their early 20s to mid-30s. The three crew manning the 47-foot Motor Life Boat (MLB) that carries them are no older. Regardless of age or responsibility, none of them complain and they all work equally hard in the harsh conditions.
This was a difficult assignment for us and we were only taking photographs. Click on the link below to follow these Coast Guardsmen through the night and into morning as they search two ships — the Isola Corallo and the CMG Amber — off the coast of New York.
We had no idea what a long night one small team of Coast Guardsmen were in for until we accepted their invitation to embed with them on a pair of overnight boarding missions.
Located at Sandy Hook, more than an hour from Staten Island, this is where the Coast Guard depart for the long ride out into international waters.
It's all business once we arrive, and after gearing up, weapons are issued and the crew heads for the boat.
The Chief in charge of the mission instructs everyone to clear their weapons before boarding the 47-foot Motor Life Boat (MLB).
Which they all do at this weapons clearing station next to the pier. Nobody wants a weapon on board with a round in the chamber that may accidentally discharge.
Weapons cleared and everyone aboard, this team leader provides information on the ships they'll be searching.
It's over an hour to where we expect our first vessel. The team members joke, eat, and bide their time focusing on what lies ahead.
The first ship the team will board is the Isola Corallo, a tanker out of Malta previously targeted by Greenpeace for its occasional cargo of palm oil.
Our boat creeps along the side of the Isola while the boarding team looks for a ladder to drop, announcing their point of entry.
Finally, a few of the Isola's crew step to the rail and drop a 'Jacob's ladder' for the team to use to climb aboard.
The rope ladder with wooden steps is named after the Biblical Jacob, who dreamt he could climb a ladder to the sky. Word is the climb can seem long enough for the name to make sense.
The climb doesn't look easy and takes a little time, but eventually the last team member hits the Isola's deck.
While the boarding team conducts their search the coxswain motors about the ship waiting for the team's radio call requesting a pick-up.
Halfway done, but with a long way to go, the team watches nearby vessels hoping the one they're looking for isn't far off.
To everyone's relief the ship they're looking for — The CGM Amber — is not far at all, and we pull up beside it in under 30 minutes.
While the team again looks for the ladder to drop, a radio call arrives telling them the CGM Amber will open that side door to the left in the picture, to let them all in.
The team leader gives the all clear once everyone is aboard and we pull away to wait while they search.
After repeated attempts, the coxswain decides to try for the other side of the Amber. We swing around back hoping for calmer seas.
This team member is gauging the highest point our boat will rise. Knowing where the deck will be and meeting it gently is key to getting back aboard unharmed.
When the team is safely aboard, the Amber releases its whistle, prompting this Guardsman to plug his ear.
In seconds, the MLB is tearing through the water back to base and the team hangs up their helmets. Finally finished — it's nearly 4 a.m. — we've been out for over 6 hours.
The cold makes the hour or so trip back feel longer than the trip out, but the engines finally cut back and the Sandy Hook piers come into view.
Shaking sleep from their eyes, the team piles from the cabin, grabs their gear and vanishes into their rooms to chase that last bit of rest before morning.
But the lower ranking crew aren't so fortunate. They begin fueling and rinsing the boat, knowing they will likely do it all over again the following day.
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