Small Boats Provide Links to Local Maritime Community
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD THE USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN, May. 2, 2006 While there is a ring of steel around the Iraqi oil terminal platforms in the Northern Arabian Gulf, small rubber boats with special boat crews do much of the heavy lifting for security and stability in the area.
A small-boat boarding party from the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Ballarat prepares for maritime operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf. American, British and Australian are always a part of Coalition Task Force 58, which provides maritime security in the region. Other countries' ships join when available. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Coalition ships move continuously around the Al Basra Oil Terminal and the Khawr al Amaya Oil Terminal, and each sends out small boat crews aboard rigid-hulled inflatable boats to conduct VBSS - visit, board, search, seizure - missions.
"They are the 'beat cops' for the area," said Navy Capt. Pat Roane, Lake Champlain's captain. "They reach out from the ships and serve a variety of functions."
The crews run the range and fulfill a variety of missions. Sailors from U.S., British and Australian ships volunteer to serve on these crews. The Lake Champlain, for example, has two crews pulled from volunteers around the ship.
"We received training before we left San Diego," said Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Hayden, an operations specialist. "On days when we are not needed, we work in our specialties. This is sort of on the order of 'other duty as assigned.'"
Seaman Jared Wilmouth is a search-and-rescue swimmer with the team, and also a personnel specialist. "You really see you are making a difference on these teams," he said.
All coalition ships have this capability. American, British and Australian are always a part of Coalition Task Force 58. Other countries' ships join when available.
The teams provide a variety of capabilities. For example, Royal Marine teams can fast rope from helicopters onto a ship for a "noncompliant search operations," said Royal Marine 2nd Lt. Tom Dingwall, aboard the HMS St. Albans. His seven-man squad trains to this standard and can do all other less-invasive boarding drills also.
The platforms are in the middle of a fishing ground and there is an exclusion area around the platforms. Fishing dhows come right up to the line. The teams interact constantly with Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Iranian fishermen.
"The teams go out and talk to the fishermen," Doane said. "That way, we know who belongs there and who is there for other purposes."
Royal Navy Cmdr. Steve Dainton, commander of the St. Albans, said the conversations are noncontroversial, but it does let the fishermen know that the coalition is present. "We talk to them about where the good fishing grounds are, who is there, conditions on shore, how often they fish - just basic chitchat to gain their confidence," he said. "We also talk to them to gain any information at all to the wider coalition mission."
The teams also board oil takers that are lined up to take on fuel from the platforms. The teams often have to climb rope ladders 100 feet up the sides of the tankers. They are wearing ballistic vests, carrying weapons and a full load of ammunition.
"When we first started, I thought some of my mates were going to have a heart attack," said Royal Australian Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Early, the executive officer of the HMAS Ballarat. "But now they scamper up the sides."
The fishermen have generally reacted positively to the coalition presence. "One thing that surprised us was how much they value coming in to this area because they know we provide law and order," said Ballarat's captain Cmdr. Mal Wise. "They know they are not going to get shook down with us here."
Doane said the mission is a lot like what civil affairs personnel do on land in Afghanistan or Iraq. "You get to know your neighborhood," he said. "You know where the good members of the neighborhood go, and where the ones with ulterior motives hang out."