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CTF150 Blog - Something from nothing

Something from nothing
This time the CTF 150 blog comes from the Deputy Commander, Captain John Craig Royal Navy.

Yogi Berra, the great American baseball player and commenter on life in general, is reported to have once said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” [He also said, “I never said half the things I said,” but his quotations are too good to ignore.] 

His warning about predictions rang true recently when one of our morning update briefs indicated that, despite moving a couple of warships to patrol areas off East Africa, the weather in the area was terrible, the forward-based Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) needed maintenance, and our early morning helicopter searches had revealed no vessels suspected of carrying narcotics towards potential drop-off points.  

CTF 150’s mission is 'to disrupt terrorist organisations and their unlawful activities by restricting freedom of manoeuvre in the maritime domain,' which we do by both intercepting and deterring drug-smugglers.  

This in turn reduces the flow of funds back to networks associated with terrorist groups (eg the Taliban), while simultaneously limiting the flow of drugs to the UK via overland routes in Africa.  Our ability to do so today, however, looked minimal.

Nothing can be taken for granted at sea, however, and, within minutes of the morning brief, one of our ships responded to a Mayday call from a dhow to the south of its patrol area. On arrival at the scene, the warship quickly established that there was no immediate risk to life and that the dhow had simply broken down. 

Even so, it is a custom of the sea that mariners will not leave fellow sailors adrift until some form of recovery plan has been ascertained… otherwise the dhow crew would eventually run out of water and then there would be a threat to their lives.

We never forget a face

Captain John Craig RN, Deputy Commander CTF150

While saving fellow mariners was the immediate priority, the location of this fishing vessel was suspect, given that there are more lucrative fishing grounds closer to the Arabian Sea. 

Equally suspect was the fact that the dhow was flying no flags, other than two tattered white rags, and the master could not identify his ‘flag state’ (the vessel’s declared nationality) when questioned. 

The warship’s boarding party went to assist and noted that the dhow’s fishing nets were not only dry but stowed away, and the fish hold was empty. 

After making sure that the vessel was safe, the boarding officer checked the dhow’s documentation and noted that several key documents were missing, and so the commanding officer had reasonable belief that the vessel was without nationality (ie operating outside the jurisdiction of any state). 

A more detailed search was then undertaken, which identified a newly-fitted and freshly-painted bulkhead (a wall within the hull of a ship) at the front of the fish hold, suggesting that, even though the dhow was now empty, she had previously been smuggling some form of illicit cargo, probably drugs, behind a false bulkhead, which had been removed to allow the cargo to be offloaded and replaced quickly afterwards. 

With plenty of suspicion, but no evidence to detain the crew further, the dhow was given a temporary repair and told to proceed to the nearest point of safety… which, conveniently, was a friendly nation with a Coast Guard who may wish to conduct a more detailed forensic search in slower time. 

The Royal Navy Police joke that, if a case against an individual cannot proved, they “bear no malice”but that, in cases where the individual in question is of dubious character, they also “never forget a face.” 

So it is with CTF 150 and, while the dhow was lucky not to be caught red-handed this time, we know who he is… and he knows that we know. If he is lucky enough to be released by the local Coast Guard, yet foolish enough to try another smuggling run in future, the cards are stacked against him.

We never forget a face.

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