Navy Boarding Parties

Maritime Interception Operation (MIO) Teams

ABOARD USS CHOSIN -- Since the end of combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in May, maritime interception operation (MIO) teams have continued to routinely board and check merchant vessel traffic in the Arabian Gulf to make sure nothing illegal comes from or goes into Iraq.

Even though pre-war sanctions have been lifted, there are still prohibited items leaving the country. When interception teams board a ship, they are specifically looking for weapons or items that could be used as bombs.

Each interception is different for each team. They never know if the mission will be uneventful and routine, or if it will turn up contraband.

Crew members aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) have learned that being prepared for anything can make the job a bit easier. When the words, “Man the boat deck!” boom throughout the ship, the MIO team gets set.

The MIO team aboard Chosin waits on the boat deck for the rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) while concentrating on what they have to do when they start their mission. As the RHIB pulls away from Chosin, the chief of the boat receives a debrief from the bridge about their objective. They need to know everything about the boat they are going to board - which direction it’s moving, what kind of boat it is, who they think is aboard and most importantly, what they think might be on that boat.

Many times, the crew doesn’t have an idea about what to expect. Their challenges may range from a simple language barrier to the danger of shots being fired.

They need to be prepared for everything. The MIO teams don’t board every boat in the Arabian Gulf. They will only board the boats that do not respond to repeated calls.

“The reason we do MIOs is to help stabilize the maritime environment and ensure the orderly flow of traffic in and around the port of Umm Qasr,” said Capt.

Mark Kellam, commander, Task Group 55.1, the Maritime Interception Force (MIF) task group.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, and the navies of Australia, Great Britian, Poland, Spain and Holland, have all had a part in MIOs and bringing security and stability back to the Umm Qasr port.

“We’re all actually with the same organization. We all work together, and we’re all a team,” said Kellam.

Right now, Chosin serves as the command platform for the MIF Commander, even though that position is held by an Australian captain. When Chosin leaves the Gulf, another ship will take its place, and the MIO responsibilities will move to that ship. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Baranof (WPB 1318) and Chosin MIO teams are currently keeping the Gulf manned.

There are actually three MIO teams aboard Chosin. The first two teams perform four-hour patrols but will not board the ships. They will call the third team, or boarding team if there is a problem. **** There are three teams within the boarding team, the security team and two sweep teams, plus a boarding officer and assistant boarding officer.

“Usually, if you take an eight-man team, there will be two people per team. There will be two Sweep Ones, two Sweep Twos, two Security guys, a Boarding Officer and an Assistant Boarding Officer,” said Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd Class Cameron Alexander, a Chosin crew member and Sweep team member.

The first to board is the Sweep One team. The Sweep One team starts on the top of the boat moving through the cabins and making sure they do the Initial Security Investigation (ISI). This involves a quick run through the boat to make sure nobody is hiding anywhere, or there is no suspicious activity taking place.

Sweep Two is the engineering team. They go down to the engineering spaces and talk with the main engineer.

They find out how much fuel they have aboard and exactly what kind of cargo they have. After their ISI is finished, Sweep Two will secure the engine room and return to the main deck.

The Security team musters all the crew members of the boat on the forecastle. Depending on how big the boat is, there will usually be only one or two members of the Security team, led by a 1st Class Petty Officer. Once the crew is rounded up and a thorough search of the boat is complete, the Boarding Officer will talk to the Master, or Captain, of the boat.

“Sometimes the crew doesn’t understand what is going on, because we have to speak English to them,” said Alexander. “But sometimes we have translators, and then they comply with no problem.”

The MIO teams for Chosin and Baranof have not had any major problems with boarding the ships.

“At first, I was really excited to board all the boats, because I thought they were all bad guys,” said Alexander, “But then I realized that these guys are just out there trying to make a living, and they’re not all bad people.

They want their work place to be safe just like we do.”

When the Sailors leave the boat after another successful and problem-free MIO, they are proud to know that just by keeping a presence in the Gulf, they’re making it a better and safer place to be.

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