BY LT MICHAEL ROMEO USN
Whenever I arrive for a duty watch I do not know what to expect, the unpredictability of illegal activity and the dynamic and complex nature of our operations offer a challenging environment for any naval officer. I could be helping direct the interdiction of drug runners, hunt down pirate action groups or simply monitor general maritime security operations. I am a Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Battle Watch Captain.
When on watch I observe and assist with the coordination and direction of our three Combined Task Forces (CTFs), CTF 150, CTF 151, and CTF 152. CTF150 is responsible for preventing terrorism, narcotics trade and general illicit activity in the maritime theatre outside the Gulf. CTF 151 is devoted to countering piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden and CTF 152 is responsible for maritime security operations in the Gulf. All CTF’s have specialist teams working different missions; where I can add value is to help each of them improve the relevant flow of information, and I do my best to ensure that happens.
In essence the smooth passage of information is a key to the success of our missions. In many cases, a combination of intelligence and historical data will lead to finding a narcotics smuggler, loaded with hashish or other drugs, and preventing that shipment from occurring is a great feeling for the team at CMF.
In addition to preventing narcotics and weapons trafficking, counter-piracy draws a large focus on daily operations. Ships (both merchant and naval) in the AOR are continually reporting any unusual activity by small skiffs and/or dhows, the same kind of boats that have been used with great success to hijack container ships, tankers, and bulk cargo ships. These small boats are even known to hijack other dhows and skiffs from legitimate traders and fishermen. This is often because they may be in better material condition thus allowing them to keep performing their piracy operations. When unusual activity is sighted we report their locations and task the nearest naval unit from CMF or NATO/EUNAVFOR to find them and investigate.
In addition to preventing criminal or terrorist activity our units have also been successful in aiding local fishermen and transiting merchant traffic during numerous safety of life at sea (SOLAS) events. I have often coordinated an airlift or boat transfer of a seriously injured mariner to a hospital and it is a satisfying part of the job.
In summary, whilst I am located ashore, I feel an extension to those out at sea – every day is different but every day counts and helps to set the conditions for maritime security and stability in the maritime environment. I am pleased to play my small part in this vital task.