Rabu, November 30, 2011

New Maritime Security System Debuts at Exercise Northstar

SOTF troopers storming the hijacked MV Avatar after rappelling from a Super Puma helicopter.

It looked like any ordinary commercial ship approaching Singapore's shores, but the seemingly innocuous merchant ship was on a sinister mission.

Initially bound for Port Klang, the merchant vessel MV Avatar was hijacked in the South China Sea.
Armed with explosives, the hijackers demanded the release of some detained terrorists. Failing which, they would sail the MV Avatar into Jurong Island and detonate the ship.

This was the scenario participants at Exercise Northstar VIII were faced with on 25 Nov. The exercise, which simulated multiple terrorist attacks at various locations in Singapore, was held from 10 to 25 Nov to test the whole-of-government approach in handling such emergencies.

In response to the hijacking simulation at sea, exercise participants despatched two patrol vessels from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Police Coast Guard (PCG) to flank the MV Avatar while they negotiated with the hijackers.

When negotiations stalled and the MV Avatar proceeded at full speed towards Jurong Island, the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) moved in. The SOTF troopers approached via two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) and a Super Puma helicopter, and proceeded to board and storm the ship while the another helicopter provided air cover.

The hijackers were subdued and control of the ship was gained four nautical miles (approximately 7.4 km) away from Jurong Island.

This successful operation was made possible through a well-oiled National Maritime Security System (NMSS). Involving various maritime security agencies, the new framework enables the early detection of maritime threats and provides a timely and coordinated response to these threats.

It comprises a National Maritime Sense-making Centre (NMSC), which collates and analyses maritime information round-the-clock, and a National Maritime Operations Group (NMOG), which carries out operations to neutralise maritime threats.

Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean, who visited the final day of Exercise Northstar, also officially launched the Singapore Maritime Security Centre in Changi Naval Base.

After observing how the NMSS was tested through the simulated hijacking incident, he commented on the importance of the NMSS: "There's so much traffic in the maritime domain going on around us; we're one of the busiest ports in the world, so to be able to detect, sense-make and understand the threats developing and to pre-empt them before they occur is a very important first step.

"The second step is to be able to respond and interdict any such threats, and the final step... is to mitigate these threats if they do develop," he added.

Besides the sea simulation, Exercise Northstar also featured a chlorine leak simulation followed by blasts caused by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Jurong Island on the same day. This simulation saw the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) containing the crisis, evacuating and treating casualties together with personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Ministry of Health.

Speaking to local media after observing the successful completion of the exercise, Mr Teo said: "This year's Exercise Northstar has tested our resilience in both the maritime and land domains... Exercises such as this are useful as they help all participating parties to be better prepared for any eventuality that may arise."

He also cautioned against complacency, saying: "We can never be too ready, so we always have to keep on practising. We must understand that the threats are unpredictable, so we cannot just be training for a specific threat, but we must have the flexibility to respond as the threats evolve."

This year's Exercise Northstar - the eighth in the series since it was started in 1997 - involved about 700 personnel from 18 agencies, including the SAF, SCDF, Singapore Police Force, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Customs.

Besides Mr Teo, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and National Development Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman and senior officials from various ministries were also present to witness the exercise.

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