Naval Tactical Operations Group conducts boarding exercise with Tunisia

Tunisian Navy Ship La Galite sails with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ville de Québec during a training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea during Operation REASSURANCE on August 20, 2018. Photo: MCpl Andre Maillet, MARPAC Imaging Services

Off the coast of Tunisia on August 20, 2018, members of the Naval Tactical Operations Group departed HMCS Ville de Québec in the Special Operations rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) to embark in the Tunisian warship La Galite for a boarding exercise with the 51st Tunisian Regiment.

The teams had a short time to meet and discuss the tactical plan required to execute a joint boarding of a vessel of interest (VOI) before the Canadian and Tunisian team leaders proceeded to the ship’s bridge, while the rest of us packed into the crew’s lounge.

The Tunisians asked a lot of questions about our training; it’s obvious they are as passionate about their jobs as we are. The conversation was cut short when the team leaders returned to deliver a situation update and discuss the plan: for this exercise we would board a fishing vessel possibly being used to smuggle drugs or weapons.

Tunisian patrol ship Joumhouria would play the role of the fishing vessel, while members of the Tunisian Navy acted as crew. With the plan in place, 12 of us embarked in the RHIB and set off to board Jomhouria.

Boarding Jomhouria was unique for the team as it has a low freeboard. Usually we have to rig ladders to climb the side of the ship, but since Joumhouria is a jet-propelled patrol boat with a platform extending from the transom flush with the water line, there was no need to climb. Our boat driver stuck to the transom platform and skillfully navigated the wake from the jets while we boarded, immediately setting up a defensive bubble.

One of the other Naval Tactical Operations Group members, a 51st commando and I moved to the bridge on the port side of the VOI while another team of Canadians and Tunisians cleared the starboard side. I moved up a ladder to the second deck, cleared the area, and then proceeded to the rooftop door to the bridge. Looking through the door to the bridge we saw a man and instructed him to come out. He was compliant and followed our direction.

At this point, the Canadian team leader, a Tunisian member and I stayed on the bridge while the rest of the team continued into the ship. I asked the man a series of questions about himself, the crew, ship and cargo, and where they were destined for while searching his person.

While the situation on the bridge was calm, down below was another story: first the call came up that the team had found drugs, then that they discovered an improvised explosive device. The appropriate procedures were undertaken by each team as we departed the vessel and returned to Ville de Québec, and the Tunisian team proceeded to La Galite.

The Tunisians are eager training partners, and through collective drive and willingness to learn we were able to jointly organize a meaningful training serial. It is obvious that the Tunisians value our military partnership and look forward to working with us, as we do with them.

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