SINGAPORE – They chased a fleeing boat, accelerating to about 55 knots, or roughly 100kmh, in order to overtake it.
And when they got close, boarding the suspicious vessel required jumping onto the bobbing boat at high speed.
Such risky manoeuvres are all in a day’s work for officers of the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG), which, as law enforcers of the sea, stand between Singapore and threats that come across the oceans.
Journalists got a close look at their seaborne operations on Wednesday (Dec 20).
In the face of a heightened terror status, the police force, including the coast guard, continue to invest in realistic training and modern equipment to deal with maritime challenges.
Precision drills were demonstrated to journalists by PCG boat operators in the confined waters near their headquarters in Brani Way.
PCG head of operations and security, Superintendent Lin Zhenqiang said PCG officers face a unique set of challenges in their counter-terrorism efforts.
Among them are sea conditions that can change instantly and the types of vessels that they may encounter.
Said Supt Lin: “To prepare our officers to adapt to these challenges, we ensure that our officers go through rigorous training in realistic environments.”
That means using the Board and Search Trainer, a seven-storey structure at PCG headquarters which simulates the conditions inside a ship.
The Straits Timesunderstands that vessels of various sizes are sometimes rented to add realism to boarding exercises.
Apart from patrolling the seas to deter illegal immigrants from coming ashore, PCG officers also check vessels for contraband and weapons.
On Wednesday, the PCG’s Anti-Smuggling Team (AST) performed a random check on a vessel.
While the crew’s identities were being verified, the remaining AST officers inspected the ship for potential hiding spaces in the engine room and water compartments.
Back at headquarters, journalists were given a taste of PCG training.
To nurture confidence, officers practise jumping into the sea from heights, in case they are ordered to abandon ship.
A trial jump from a height of 2m went smoothly, but my heart was pounding as I stood on a platform with an 8m plunge to the water below.
The two safety divers in the water looked so small.
Knowing that a poorly executed jump could result in injury, I nervously clutched my life jacket close to my chest and jumped. It felt like an eternity before I felt the violent rush of water against my face. But other than swallowing seawater, I was fine.
The real test came when I was earmarked, as part of this mock exercise, to be part of the PCG’s Emergency Response Team (ERT), which had been “activated” when a ship’s captain reported seeing two suspicious men on his vessel.
The team’s mission was to clear the ship, ensure the safety of the crew and locate the two strangers. My mission was to to tail the team.
Scaling the side of the Board and Search Trainer up a 7m-long ladder caused me to sweat profusely, with my bulletproof vest, radio set, helmet and dummy pistol and rifle weighing close to 18kg between them. The ERT, on the other hand, carried heavier loads.
Trying to keep a cool head while securing every turn inside a poorly ventilated and noisy vessel is not for the faint-hearted, especially with two armed adversaries on board.
But the ERT officers returned fire on the “gunmen” and subsequently subdued them.
While it had all been a training exercise, I had newfound respect for the highly skilled and courageous men and women of PCG, who work mostly out of the public eye.