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HMAS Newcastle Boards the US Navy’s ‘Ship in a Box’ in Bahrain


Leading Seaman James Townsend guards the door leading to the bridge of the United States Navy's ‘Ship in a Box’ in Bahrain. HMAS Newcastle's boarding party was demonstrating its boarding processes during a training scenario.

HMAS Newcastle has conducted mission-focused visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training with the United States Navy (USN) and the United States Coast Guard in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Newcastle is in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) conducting maritime security operations as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) coalition, with a mission to counter terrorism, smuggling and piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. 

Since arriving in the MEAO in May, Newcastle’s Boarding Party has executed more than 100 maritime security boarding actions to search for evidence of illegal activity, collect “patterns of life” intelligence and build rapport with the local seafarer community. 

US Forces are also conducting maritime boarding operations in the region as part of the 29-nation CMF coalition.

Newcastle’s Boarding Party took advantage of a short port visit to Bahrain to train with the USN’s VBSS Team, which is based in the island kingdom.

The training was conducted in a purpose built “ship in a box”, which the Australian sailors boarded to demonstrate their VBSS procedures. USN sailors acted as civilian mariners so that the Australians could practice their questioning techniques.  

Newcastle’s Boarding Officer, Lieutenant Laura Ball, said the opportunity allowed her team to compare tactics with their American counterparts.

“The training was excellent. The US is one of our biggest coalition partners and training with them allowed us to swap good ideas and strengthen coalition ties,” Lieutenant Ball said.

“I think everyone in the team got something out of the training. We learned different questioning techniques, slightly different search techniques and I think the experience will enhance our own boarding capabilities.”

USN Petty Officer Class Two Stephen Bird said the boarding teams were put through scenarios to help them analyse the effectiveness of their intelligence gathering techniques.

“What the personnel practiced here today was to approach a dhow, go onboard and ask basic questions of the master and the crew. We taught them how to ask questions and build relationships which maximise their ability to gather information.”

Petty Officer 2 Bird said his sailors also learned from the Australians during the training scenarios.

“Our two countries, and the other nations of the coalition, have been out here, doing this job, for a while. The best thing that we can do is help each other along the way and learn from each others successes and mistakes.

“We certainly learned some things. In fact, we weren’t really teaching the Australians, but rather reinforcing what they already knew. We feel really comfortable working with these guys now and well into the future.”

Lieutenant Ball said Newcastle would seek to conduct more training with Australia’s coalition partners before the ship’s six-month deployment to the MEAO concludes in October.

“The experience with the USN VBSS team was really positive and we hope to conduct similar training during future visits to ports throughout the Middle East. We’re keen to make the most of every opportunity to enhance our capabilities,” she said. 

Newcastle is deployed to the MEAO as part of Operation SLIPPER – the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement.

Newcastle’s deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.