Sailors aboard Australian frigate HMAS Darwin and Canadian frigate HMCS Vancouver carried out boarding drills while they were en route to Auckland for the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th Anniversary International Naval Review.
That was before both ships were retasked to assist the New Zealand with the response to the recent earthquake.
Darwin’s boarding officer, Lieutenant James Hodgkinson said the exercise was an excellent opportunity for both teams to put their skills to the test in an unfamiliar environment.
“The Canadian team wanted to board a different vessel, to have foreign compartments to search and unfamiliar personnel to encounter,” he said.
“Likewise for us, we haven’t done a boarding since the Middle East and it was a chance shake out our boarding team, to get everyone out there and going through our procedures.”
The teams from both ships practised a flag verification boarding scenario, whereby the nationality of the vessel being boarded is unknown.
Darwin used her helicopter control office as a mock dhow bridge, or wheel house, and members of ship’s company role played civilian crew in plain clothes.
“We introduced a few uncertainties to test the Canadians,” Lieutenant Hodgkinson said.
“We had documentation on the bridge to reflect inconsistencies, such as the cargo manifest and the number of crew onboard, all of which were slightly different to what we told them over the radio.
“There were a few nuggets in there for the boarding officer to unpack and say ‘hang on, this doesn’t make sense.’”
Deck officer in Vancouver, Lieutenant Loagan Stroud said Darwin was a great platform to board.
“The team has to be ready to board any vessel and by practising our procedures in Darwin we got to see a completely different layout,” he said.
“One thing that stands out with the Royal Australian Navy is the flexibility of the team.
“While planning the boarding exercise I passed a few requests on to Lieutenant Hodgkinson and he was able to accommodate us with no problems.
“With his help I was able to get some great training done with the team.”
Vancouver is four and a half months through a six month Pacific deployment that has seen her travel to Hawaii, Vietnam, Singapore and the city of Darwin.
HMAS Darwin returned from her seventh deployment to the Middle East region in July in which her boarding party seized nearly one tonne of heroin in vessel interceptions off the coast of Africa.