Phot shots in counter-narcotics fight

This article has photo gallery Published on POIS Helen Frank (author), LSIS Ronnie Baltoft (photographer)

Topic(s): Operation MANITOU, Imagery Specialists

Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Richard Cordell in front of HMAS Toowoomba at Fleet Base West, Western Australia. (photo: LSIS Ronnie Baltoft)
Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Richard Cordell in front of HMAS Toowoomba at Fleet Base West, Western Australia.

One of the smallest categories in the Navy has a large role to play when operating in the Middle East Region.

With only 39 members, sailors of the Imagery Specialist branch often deploy alone and are expected to produce imagery across a wide range of domains from public relations to intelligence gathering.

Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Richard Cordell recently returned from a five month deployment in support of Operation MANITOU on HMAS Toowoomba.

“My primary role on board was the collection of intelligence imagery,” Leading Seaman Cordell said.

“Although capturing public relations images and video of life at sea, as well as major events, also played a big part in my day to day duties.

“While the intelligence imagery is not widely shared, the other images are often used to promote the ship, the operation, the Navy and the Defence Force as a whole.”

Operation MANITOU is the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to international efforts that promote maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

HMAS Toowoomba shared tasking between the Combined Maritime Force, conducting counter-narcotics operations as part of Task Force 150, and conducting maritime security operations in the Strait of Hormuz with the International Maritime Security Construct.

During the deployment, Toowoomba intercepted more than 3000 kilograms of illegal narcotics and collecting imagery of these seizures was important to ensure authorities have evidence to bring the offenders to justice.

“The collection of imagery during a drug interception covered my whole range of normal ship photographic duties in an extremely condensed time period,” Leading Seaman Cordell said.

“I had to record investigation and intelligence photographs of the vessel, master, crew, contraband and drug hiding places but also collect imagery that could be used to promote the Royal Australian Navy’s efforts in the fight against terrorism.”

The imagery is passed to a number of international agencies to meet various objectives.

Hundreds of shots are shared to local and international intelligence agencies, other navies in the area of operations and law enforcement authorities of nearby countries.

The public relations imagery is used to promote the ship and the Royal Australian Navy across a number of media and news agencies. Imagery can also be used to train the next ship’s companies assigned to the operation.

Leading Seaman Cordell said one of the most rewarding aspects of being an Imagery Specialist is the autonomy with which he can work.

“The trust given to work unsupervised is very satisfying,” he said.

“As an Imagery Specialist, knowing your work can make an impact on things like recruitment and public perception is also gratifying.”

A highlight of the deployment for Leading Seaman Cordell was watching people he videoed for the Anzac Day ‘shout-outs’ see themselves on TV.

“They were honestly chuffed and proud of themselves and their mates didn’t pick on them for it, there was a sense of pride throughout the crew.”

After some well earnt respite Leading Seaman Cordell is now back at work at Navy Imagery Unit - West where he and the team cover events happening at HMAS Stirling and the surrounding areas.

Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Richard Cordell in front of HMAS Toowoomba at Fleet Base West, Western Australia.

Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Richard Cordell in front of HMAS Toowoomba at Fleet Base West, Western Australia.