Boardings at sea are key to Australian warships achieving counter-piracy, counter terrorism and counter-narcotics missions.
The capability, which is as old as navies themselves, allows a small team from the Ship’s Company to board a suspect vessel while underway, to verify its registry, status and cargo.
Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Sam Hicks is leading one of HMAS Ballarat’s boarding teams on operation in the Middle East and said there are set procedures to follow before boarding.
“Once we close up to boarding stations, I get my team ready by going through a series of checks before I brief them on what we are about to do,” he said.
“From there we jump into our Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB), make our approach and wait for the approval to board.”
RHIBs provide the Royal Australian Navy with an over-the-horizon interception and boarding capability. They have a range of 200 nautical miles and can reach speeds of up to 40 knots.
Lieutenant Hicks said once approved, the team boards and starts liaising with the crew to verify the vessel’s purpose.
“If we find drugs or contraband, we seize them for disposal later,” he said.
As part of the process, Ballarat’s embarked Sea Hawk helicopter is launched to watch over the boarding crew during a boarding operation.
The size of a boarding team varies but generally consists of a boarding officer, a second in charge, a security sweep team, crew security and a marine engineer.
Lieutenant Hicks said his team trained in boarding operations for almost 12 months before deploying and he was confident of a successful and safe deployment.
“We have conducted a variety of training packages and it’s these training packages that put us in a good position to conduct our boardings safely, professionally and on time,” he said.