The US Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia, which arrived in Palau on October 15 to support the Aids to Navigation project, made a trip to Sonsorol Island last week to scope out prospects for the US Pacific defense strategy.

The visit, which included members of the Coast Guard as well as US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland, arrived at the small Southwest Island on Tuesday afternoon, October 20, and departed Wednesday, arriving back in Malakal Port on Thursday afternoon.

The US Embassy has said that Sonsorol is “of strategic importance and ties into the overall strategy for the US defense of Palau”.

According to the Sonsorol State Office, in addition to delivering supplies to the remote island, the patrol also involved discussion between the US Embassy and representatives of the Sonsorol State Government on the development of military defense projects in Sonsorol. The Sonsorol State Office says that discussions involved the building of a radar system on the island for maritime surveillance, as well as requesting and identifying an area for helicopter landing and conducting military exercises.  

The projects are expected to be part of a wider military effort to combat Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific. Earlier this month, US Marine forces conducted Exercise Noble Fury on various Japanese islands such as Okinawa, in preparation for a theoretical engagement with Chinese maritime forces. The drills rehearsed dropping Marines to land by helicopter, who practiced firing at targets and then escaping by helicopter. These types of drills are expected to expand to other strategic locations across the Pacific.

The Sequoia visit to Sonsorol follows the visit of US Defense Secretary Mark Esper to Palau this past August, who emphasized the “ongoing destabilizing activities [of China] in the region”, and the visit of the US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite last week, who emphasized the US’ “commitment to the security of the region”. It also coincides with the arrival of the naval ship USS Comstock, as well as the arrival of Air Force personnel to conduct assessments of the serviceability of Palau’s airports in Airai, Peleliu, and Angaur.

The Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia, a 225-foot Seagoing Buoy Tender, will otherwise be responsible for establishing buoys in the waters off of Palau’s coasts, to support the safety of navigation for shipping routes. 

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