Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2015
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Pugliese
Page: A9


New Canadian Naval Unit Specializes in Pirates, Drug Dealers and Terrorists

The high-speed boat filled with heavily armed sailors skims through 
the waves, then jams up alongside an unidentified ship that has 
entered Canadian waters.

The sailors scramble to board the vessel and quickly fan out. One 
group searches cabins and passageways; another is confronted by a man 
with a pistol. The gunman ignores orders to drop his weapon as 
Canadian sailors train their C8 assault rifles on him.

There is a crackle of gunfire and the man slumps to the deck, hit 
several times by bullets from three C8s. The sailors move past his 
crumpled body to continue searching the ship.

Minutes later, the gunman stands up: his heavily padded uniform has 
protected him from the strikes of the low-powered, simulated bullets 
fired by the sailors.

This is a practice exercise for a new Royal Canadian Navy unit 
designed to deal with drug dealers, pirates and terrorists on the high seas.

The Citizen was given an exclusive look at the unit - the Maritime 
Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) - which is still in its infancy but 
is expected to expand to between 85 and 100 personnel over the next 
several years.

"By creating a small unit, we're able to be flexible and adjust to 
evolving threats," explains Lt.-Cmdr. Wil Lund, the officer in charge of MTOG.

Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman gave the green 
light to the development of the unit last year.

While the navy already has boarding parties, they are made up of 
regular members of a ship's crew. Such duties, however, are secondary 
for those sailors.

The navy uses the teams to conduct boardings on what it calls 
"vessels of interest." Identities of those on such ships are checked 
and the cargo examined.

But officers taking part in recent naval deployments such as 
Operation ARTEMIS - Canada's participation in counter-terrorism and 
maritime security operations in the waters around the Middle East - 
recommended establishing a full-time, dedicated unit that would be 
capable of conducting boardings in cases where the threat could be higher.

It was one thing for naval boarding teams to check out a fishing boat 
in the Arabian Sea, another to come face-to-face with Somali pirates 
brandishing AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, or a drug boat 
whose armed crew wasn't keen on surrendering its illegal cargo.

The navy's existing boarding teams will continue their duties, but 
MTOG will be used on riskier missions.

Norman also has plans to use the unit to train boarding parties from 
other navies around the world.

Training and selection for MTOG began last year, with the unit 
recruiting both full-time and reserve force sailors.

In early June 2015, its first 10-man team went to sea with HMCS 
Winnipeg, which will take part in counter-drug operations in the 
Caribbean. After that, Winnipeg will head to the Mediterranean Sea to 
be assigned to a NATO naval task group.

Selection and training for a second MTOG team will begin later in the summer.

Lund says applicants are carefully screened over five days, with an 
emphasis on physical fitness and maturity. "They have to have a 
personality that is very calm but also able to work in a team 
environment," he explained. "They also need to be able to make rapid 
decisions in a high-stress environment."

The three-month intensive training regime is focused on precision 
shooting, hand-to-hand combat, interrogation techniques, advanced 
medical skills, the planning of missions and identification of 
improvised explosive devices.

The job itself is physically demanding: trying to board from a moving 
boat to another moving ship in choppy seas, either by scaling ropes 
or climbing ladders, is exhausting.

Add to that the fact it is not uncommon for team members to be loaded 
down with 30 kilograms of gear, including assault rifles, pistols, 
radios and bulletproof vests.

"The real challenge is once you get up on board you can't be 
completely exhausted," Lund says. "You've got to be able to calm 
yourself and carry on with your duties."

Later, the unit will add "insertion" from helicopters - sliding down 
ropes from the aircraft to the deck of a ship - to their training.

Lund says the unit isn't covert but it is being designed to be 
capable of working with Canadian special forces. The Ottawa-based 
Joint Task Force 2 is responsible for handling maritime 
counter-terrorism missions, although it can draw expertise from other 
organizations within the special forces command.

"We would be able to act in a supporting role to the special 
operations task force when they came out," explained Lund, who 
himself served 15 years with Canadian special forces.

MTOG has been equipped with highly modified rigid-hulled inflatable 
boats known as special operations RIBs. Compared with the navy's 
regular inflatable boats, these are a lot faster, outfitted with 
advanced electronics and radar, and are considered more manoeuvrable.

Those operating the boats need special skills not only to chase down 
and intercept a moving vessel, but to keep the RIB alongside and 
stable as team members climb aboard their target.

Service in MTOG is attractive to those in the navy looking for an 
unusual job, say sailors who qualified for the unit. Team members 
don't get any extra pay. Training is tough and the days can be long.

Leading Seaman Morris, 26, said he was attracted by the uniqueness of 
the maritime tactical operations group (navy officers asked that his 
first name not to be printed for security reasons).

"It's pretty one of a kind," he explained. "I've done martial arts, 
and competed for a couple of years. So the close-quarter battle, the 
hand-to-hand contact definitely appealed to me."

Morris was part of the recent exercise observed by the Citizen. Once 
the team finished searching the cabins, he and the other maritime 
tactical operators headed back to the RIB for yet another high-speed 
practice run on the target vessel.

There are no complaints. It's the type of action team members say 
they joined up for. "We always try to suit up and go work on our 
skill sets as often as we can," Morris says.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom