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U.S., Singapore Navy Boarding Teams Combine For CARAT

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050610-04
Release Date: 6/10/2005 1:13:00 PM

By Chief Journalist Melinda Larson, Commander, Destroyer Squadron 1 Public Affairs

SINGAPORE (NNS) -- A combined U.S. Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training event aboard USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) integrated the two navies as they shared maritime security tactics and techniques during exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2005, June 4.

CARAT, a bilateral series of military exercises with several Southeast Asian nations, is designed to enhance the interoperability of the respective sea services in a variety of mission areas of mutual benefit, including skills directly applicable to combatting seaborne terrorism threats and transnational crimes at sea. Numerous nations in the region have taken steps to improve maritime security through increased information sharing and patrolling.

“The idea is to practice joint boardings so we can work together during possible future operations,” said Lt.j .g. Matthew Jones, officer in charge of the four-person U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) San Francisco detachment embarked aboard Fort McHenry for CARAT 2005.

A day prior to the boarding, the combined teams spent a day in the classroom at the RSN’s Changi Naval Base reviewing each other’s boarding procedures.

“The U.S. Coast Guard has a lot of experience in boardings, especially how to search compartments," said Capt. Yeo Boon Kiat, executive officer of the Republic of Singapore (RSS) ship Independence. "The symposium was excellent. We shared a lot of information."

The mission of the VBSS teams was to find a mock weapons cache. To make the shared exercise more realistic, the combined USN/RSN VBSS teams traveled a short distance to the docked Fort McHenry in a rigid-hull inflatable boat from USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60), where the U.S. VBSS team originated. Three men from each navy then picked a partner and were divided into three two-man teams before boarding Fort McHenry using a Jacob’s ladder.

The job of boarding unfamiliar vessels with possible criminal activity is inherently risky business.

“Our first priority in everything we do is safety,” said Jones. “Even getting on board climbing up a Jacob’s ladder can be difficult with all of our gear.”

Once aboard Fort McHenry, the teams were briefed by the MSST on their mission to find four black cases of fake firearms.

The MSST limited the search to the 02 and 03 levels - primarily troop berthing spaces - of the Fort McHenry.

After about 30 minutes, one of the search crews discovered the bogus weapons cache in a berthing compartment.

“We may be from different navies, but our tactics are basically the same. It’s common sense if you know the basic tactics of boardings,” noted Fire Controlman 2nd Class Dean Crawford, a Rodney M. Davis VBSS team member.

Continuing the exchange of knowledge, the teams entered a third day of VBSS training. The teams once again boarded Fort McHenry, this time underway in the South China Sea.

The scenario for the at-sea event involved locating two stowaways.

“There are two reasons you need to account for all of the crew - legal issues and personnel security,” said Lt. Joseph Silkowski, another officer-in-charge of the USCG’s MSST. “If people are trying to, for instance, enter the United States, there could be an illegal immigration issue. You want all of your boarding personnel to be safe from potential criminals. Plus nowadays, stowaways could be terrorists, and that’s why it’s more important than ever to account for all of the crew.”

As the three teams set out on their quest for stowaways, the command and control team set up operations in a makeshift “bridge” area in order to question the vessel’s captain.

As the command and control team communicated with the search teams and waited for their return, they shared information about how to identify bogus passports and gather photographic evidence of a crew.

“Something we do during a boarding is take a photo of each crew member and have them hold up their passport in the photo. That way we have photographic evidence of each crew member,” said Chief Gunner’s Mate Ross McDonell, Rodney M. Davis’ assistant VBSS boarding officer and head of the command and control team.

It was not long before the teams returned with stowaways.

“I’d feel comfortable going on a boarding with any of these guys,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Dean Crawford of Rodney M. Davis’ VBSS team, referring to his RSN counterparts.

The CARAT task group, under the leadership of Commander, Destroyer Squadron 1, is made up of the dock landing ship Fort McHenry, the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), the frigate USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60), and the rescue and salvage ship USS Safeguard (ARS 50). Other elements, including P-3C Orion and SH-60 Seahawk aircraft, U.S. Navy Seabees, U.S. Army veterinarians and a variety of support commands will also take part in CARAT.

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