USS Cape St George
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USS Cape St. George Boarding Team Assists Mariners, Helps Maintain Security in Persian Gulf

From USS Cape St. George Public Affairs

ABOARD USS CAPE ST. GEORGE (NNS) -- USS Cape. St. George’s (CG 71) boarding team responded to a distress call by a Panamanian-flagged motor vessel while conducting maritime security operations in the North Persian Gulf Feb. 27.

The master of Motor Vessel Hader, a diesel tanker, contacted Cape St. George via bridge-to-bridge reporting it had been fired upon and illegally boarded. One of Cape’s two Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams boarded the vessel and conducted a security sweep of the ship to verify that it was safe for the master and his 11 crew members to stay aboard. The VBSS team also verified no weapons or any other contraband was stowed in any of the motor vessel’s cargo holds or compartments.

“We could tell that the ship’s master was shaken up and frustrated after being attacked, but he told us several times how glad he was that we were there and the coalition was making the area safer,” said Ensign Christopher A. Tilley, Cape’s VBSS Team 2 leader.

Coalition ships like Cape St. George are flexible enough to continue the MSO mission while providing assistance to mariners in distress. Naval assets conducting coalition MSO have a longstanding tradition of providing medical assistance, engineering assistance, and search and rescue.

MSO set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. MSO deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

VBSS teams board crafts ranging from wooden fishing dhows to the large crude oil supertankers looking for illegal materials. While aboard, VBSS teams compile relevant information on the crew and ships operating in the area. This effort and the information acquired facilitates maritime security and stability operations by learning more about the normal pattern of maritime activity, so as to better recognize when activity that is out of the ordinary occurs among the innocent merchants and fishermen who ply the waters of the Gulf.

All three of Cape’s VBSS teams are certified to conduct compliant and the more risky non-compliant boardings, a responsibility which used to belong exclusively to Special Forces and the Marine Corps. The teams attended eight weeks of training in Norfolk, Va. Of those, three weeks were spent at the non-compliant boarding team trainer at Naval Support Activity, Northwest Annex. The teams then participated in five weeks of ship’s reaction force basic and advanced trainers.

“[A non-compliant boarding] is certainly the most difficult scenario a VBSS team could encounter. The training we received in Virginia ensured the teams will always be prepared for the worst possible case,” said one Cape Sailor who volunteered to serve on the VBSS teams.

Sailors who have other jobs on the ship volunteer to take on additional training and responsibilities to be part of these boarding teams.

“A lot of the guys are juggling watch with VBSS duties, but we’re still expected to be ready to go at any time, no matter what. VBSS keeps us pretty busy, but the team is always eager to go out,” said Chief Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) Kevin S. Pickens, one of Cape’s assistant boarding officers.

Cape St. George conducted numerous boardings while serving as the flagship for more than two months for the commander of Combined Task Force (CTF) 58, the multinational coalition conducting MSO in the North Persian Gulf.

Cape’s VBSS team members say they were “pleasantly surprised” at the enthusiastic and helpful response from both the international shipping community and local fishermen they encountered during boarding operations.

“While taking the opportunity to accompany my teams on various boardings in the [Persian] Gulf, I have learned that the local mariners seek our presence because they feel safe with us around. That means a lot to us,” said Capt. James R. Yohe, Cape’s commanding officer.

In addition to the Norfolk-based cruiser, other U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and coalition boarding teams work to build trust and confidence in their efforts among local mariners.

“Coalition boarding operations are the best way to show we are here to provide presence and spread the message that the coalition is here to provide long-term security,” said Lt. Joel Lang, Cape’s weapons officer.

Cape St. George deployed from Norfolk, Va., Nov. 7 as part of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 8 and continues to support maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

For related news, visit the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.

Story Number: NNS060306-04 Release Date: 3/6/2006 2:14:00 PM

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