The great exodus

Mexican fishing fleet departs Brownsville port

A boat crew from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas, escort Mexican shrimp boats leaving the port of Brownsville after seeking shelter from Hurricane Ingrid, Sept. 17, 2013. Coast Guard crews worked with Customs and Border Protection agents to escort approximately 200 vessels in and out of port.

Normally, confiscated lanchas, fishing nets and dead fish populate empty parking spots of Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas. Evidence of a busy week keeping America’s waters sovereign and free of illegal fishing. When I arrived at the station on Sept. 17, the parking lot was unusually free of these tell-tale trophies. It was also oddly quiet. No crewmembers milled about, no sound at all except for the lapping of the waves on the shore and the occasional bird chirp. Not usual at all for one of the busiest stations in Texas.

Inside the station was a completely different story. I found myself in a beehive of activity. Crewmembers bustled around, moving from one meeting to another, updating information on white boards and preparing for another potentially long day, their faces a mix of purpose, prideĀ and exhaustion.

A crew member from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas, documents the crew's progress as they board and escort Mexican shrimp boat leaving the port of Brownsville, Sept. 17, 2013.

A crew member from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas, documents the crew’s progress as they board and escort Mexican shrimp boat leaving the port of Brownsville, Sept. 17, 2013.

Hurricane Ingrid had prompted a fleet of 179 Mexican shrimp boats to request shelter in the port of Brownsville until it was safe to return to Mexican waters. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection crews boarded each of vessels, taking account of crew numbers and any pollution concerns that could adversely effect the port. This process took approximately 18 hours.

On Sept. 17, approximately half of the 179 shrimp crews had decided to return home and the same boat crews that had processed them upon their arrival were now tapped to escort them out. The video of this process can be found here.

Petty officers Stephen Ballinger and Ariel Reyes board a Mexican shrimp boat leaving the port of Brownsville, Texas, after seeking shelter from Hurricane Ingrid, Sept. 17, 2013. Coast Guard crews worked with Customs and Border Protection agents to escort approximately 200 vessels in and out of port.

Petty officers Stephen Ballinger and Ariel Reyes board a Mexican shrimp boat leaving the port of Brownsville, Texas, after seeking shelter from Hurricane Ingrid, Sept. 17, 2013. Coast Guard crews worked with Customs and Border Protection agents to escort approximately 200 vessels in and out of port.

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