A Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) seminar to hone the skills needed for boarding operations to stop smuggling and other illegal maritime activities in the Gulf has culminated with a realistic practical test of the participants’ skills and knowledge.
Eighteen officers from Gulf Cooperation Council States (GCC) Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates as well as Jordan and Pakistan, took part in the three day seminar which was hosted by US Coast Guard officers and covered all aspects of boarding operations.
Everything from determining the legal grounds for a boarding to how to safely sweep a vessel for armed criminals was covered, with the emphasis being on open discussion and the sharing of past experiences to pool and improve group knowledge.
Lieutenant Commander Adel Mani, Jordanian Navy, event organizer, said the main goal of the seminar was to exchange information. “It’s a very brief event for such a huge subject but it was a good opportunity for the participants to share experiences and learn about the boarding techniques used by other GCC nations.
“The aim is also to make friends. I can say we have achieved that and, most importantly, the participants have enjoyed their stay in Bahrain.”
The end of seminar practical session took place on a purpose built facility at Mina Salman Port, Manama, Bahrain. The ‘ship in a box’, made from shipping container units stacked to three levels, came complete with a bridge and engine room to mirror what would be found onboard a real merchant ship.
In the first scenario, participants had to conduct a boarding of a suspicious vessel which the merchant crew said had intruders aboard. The team methodically searched the vessel, clearing every space, until they found the four men and safely apprehended them, removing the threat to the ship’s crew.
Commodore Robert Hendrickson, US Coast Guard, Commander of US Coast Guard Patrol Forces South West Asia, said: “Participants getting to know each other at this level is what builds coalitions. This is the end state – sharing knowledge and resources for one common goal.”
Lieutenant Essa Al Tamimi, Qatar Navy, said: “It has been a very useful course. The lectures gave us an idea of the challenges faced to detect smuggling and piracy and there were a few real stories to give a better view of what’s going on at sea.”
Captain Omar al Jutaili, Kuwait Navy, added: “The talk about how to look for and identify different types of illegal drugs on ships was very useful, not something I knew about before.”
Sub Lieutenant Mohammad Ahmed, Pakistan Navy, said: “I’m a qualified boarding officer and often carry out boardings for fishery protection and counter narcotics operations and to detect people smuggling. This has been a great exchange of tactics and a chance to share our different practices in a practical environment.”
Another scenario had the team board a suspicious vessel and look for hidden narcotics and any clues that hinted at illegal intent, such as false or incomplete documentation. US Naval Criminal Investigative Service officers were on hand to advise how best to question the ships’ crew to assess whether any illegal activity was present.
The post scenario debrief gave participants a chance to get feedback and discuss and analyse the methods used.
“There’s been excellent communication between all. Everyone has been highly motivated,” said Lieutenant Richard Derfus, of the US Coast Guard Patrol Force South West Asia.
“I’ve gained a lot from the experience and made a lot of friends. This has helped us all enhance our boarding skills, so we can now transfer that knowledge to our own units,” said Second Lieutenant Ahmad Alqatawneh, Jordanian Naval Force.
Captain Jacques Riviere, French Navy, Director Plans, CMF, said: “This particular event was very successful. The seminar is an occasion to share experiences. All nations have different ways of doing things and they provide good ideas from every horizon, so the boarding seminar is the way to emphasize all of these points.”