Operation Artemis: Boarding parties critical to maritime security

Navy News / November 25, 2013

By Captain Annie Morin

There are many factors that contribute to mission success on any given operation. Some are enablers which, when combined, set the stage for success and provide the command team with the necessary tools to achieve a positive mission outcome.

Highly trained and effective personnel are critical to mission success. On board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Toronto, a frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy currently deployed on Operation Artemis in the Arabian Sea region, this is no exception – every crew member plays a key role.

Some of the ship’s company also have the added duty of being a member of the naval boarding party (NBP), which enables Toronto to perform some of her assigned tasks, most notably maritime security and counter terrorism operations. The NBP provides an increased capability for the ship, which allows Toronto to perform full boarding operations.

"Toronto's naval boarding party is critical to our efforts to enhance regional maritime security on Op Artemis by helping us deny terrorist organizations the use of the marine environment,” said Commander Matthew Bowen, commanding officer of Toronto. “While Toronto herself can find and stop suspicious vessels on the high seas, it's the naval boarding party that actually goes on board and conducts the physical search for cargo or personnel linked to terrorism. Their skill and dedication are what enable much of our success on the current mission."

The Canadian Armed Forces, like many other militaries around the world, use NBPs on board their ships. The primary role of a NBP is to conduct boardings of various classes of ships which intelligence teams have identified as being of interest. While deployed on Op Artemis, Toronto’s NBPs are expected to carry out tasks such as establishing the identity of a suspicious vessel and/or the legality of its cargo or passengers, and gathering information to determine if the cargo or passengers are linked to terrorism. Drug smuggling, for example, is often used as a means to financially support terrorist organizations.

In the Royal Canadian Navy, NBP teams are not a specialized trade; the team is chosen from Toronto’s core crew. While some positions are required to be filled by specific trades on board such as a marine engineer or medical personnel, anyone may join the NBP, as long as they possess the required qualities and training.

Some of the personal attributes required include initiative, motivation and the ability to perform in a team setting. NBP personnel should also possess a high physical fitness level with stamina and agility, as they may be exposed to extreme environmental conditions in the course of their duties. Additionally, they must be adept at handling an array of weapons.

To ensure success during boarding operations, the team requires extensive training in areas such first aid, physical fitness, use of non-lethal force (pepper spray and ASP baton), shooting techniques for the Sig Sauer, C8, MP5 and shotgun, tactical movement, search techniques, intelligence gathering and handcuffing. As part of this training, NBP members often use Combat Enhanced Ammunition Simulation System (CEASS) rounds, which perform like paintball pellets to allow realistic tactical training.

The process involved in a boarding is regimented and includes a set sequence of events to ensure Toronto remains compliant with direction from Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), as well as national doctrine and both domestic and international law.

Toronto begins with a search for a contact of interest. Upon localizing the target vessel, the ship requests authorization from CTF 150 to carry out a boarding. The ship is then brought to boarding stations while the NBP verifies its equipment. Once its equipment is prepared, the NBP receives additional instruction and guidance from the ship’s commanding officer regarding the boarding. The rigid-hulled inflatable boat is then launched, taking Alpha wave (the first group) to the vessel to be boarded. The Alpha wave embarks the target vessel using a caving ladder.

The team’s first action is to perform a security sweep. The entire vessel is searched for potential threats to ensure the subsequent safety of personnel. If it is determined that there are sufficient grounds, Bravo wave (the second group) is sent on board to conduct a more detailed search for signs of illegal activities. Upon the discovery of hidden or void spaces where narcotics, for example, could be hidden, the ship requests authorization from CMF through CTF 150 to perform keyhole searches.

A keyhole search is a very small hole drilled into a space through which a camera is inserted to gain visual access to the hidden space while minimizing damage to the vessel. If the team sees something suspect that requires further examination or if illicit cargo is discovered but is not easily accessible, a request for destructive search is then sent to CMF through CTF 150. A destructive search allows the NBP to access the suspect area using more invasive means; however, any damage done has to be repaired prior to the NBP departing the vessel.

Following the completion of the destructive search and the successful discovery of illicit cargo such as narcotics, authorization for disposal will be sought through CMF and Canadian Joint Operations Command. The narcotics will be embarked on board Toronto, and members of the ship’s company will perform intelligence gathering. Once that is completed, the narcotics are disposed of in the most expedient and efficient manner available, concluding the boarding operation.

HMCS Toronto is currently deployed with 262 crew members, along with CH-124 Sea King helicopter and uninhabited aerial vehicle detachments on Op Artemis. The ship is part of CTF 150, a multinational maritime task force combating terrorism across the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Toronto and her coalition partners promote security, stability and prosperity in an area that spans over two million square miles and encompasses some of the world’s most important shipping routes, connecting the Far East to Africa, Europe and North America.