Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta DiscoSmall
NEW YORK – Spread out on benches between the two main decks aboard the Staten Island Ferry were more than 100 passengers who volunteered as role-players for a unique Coast Guard drill; they awaited further tasking on what was described to them as a “long night ahead.”
Little did the unsuspecting ferry passengers know that among them, alleged terrorists had planted a radiological device, which was set to release a powdery substance with the capability to contaminate the entire ferry, which during peak commuting hours can carry more than 5,000 passengers.
Meanwhile, back at the remote Tactical Operations Center, members were on high alert as the situation was unfolding. Communications and intel staff were relaying information between Coast Guard Sector New York, the Operational Commander and the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team MSRT, when members of the Coast Guard’s Deployable Specialized Forces DSF moved in.
Shielded under the cover of darkness with only the ambient lights from the New York and New Jersey skyline behind them, the tactical boat delivery teams maneuvered their dark-hulled special purpose crafts (SPC) closer to the large municipal orange-colored Staten Island Ferry as it transited across New York Harbor.
Heavily armed DSF members, dressed in dark blue drysuits and camouflage tactical gear, stood lookout on the bow and stern of the boats, while other members quickly secured the ladder to the ferry. One by one the team members climbed up the side of the ferry and onto the deck. With time and weather working against them, the second SPC maneuvered alongside the first boat and tied off as the remaining members hurried across toward the ladder.
Once all the members of the MSRT’s boarding team safely embarked the ferry, the two boats peeled away from the ferry’s wake and established a security zone around the vessel. The teams strategically entered into the ferry’s wide-open deck space undetected by the passengers and crew on board.
The MSRT, known as an adaptive force package, is comprised of members from the Direct Action Section (DAS); Precision Marksman Observer Team (PMOT); and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) team. They tactically covered one another as they strategically began securing each of the passengers, sweeping the compartments of the ferry, and verifying documentation in an attempt to locate the radiological device that was reportedly aboard the massive ferry, based off of intelligence. Once located, the team was able to secure the device, ensuring the safety of the passengers, crew and their destination, New York City, thus concluding the drill.
“As an operational unit serving this Nation’s 3rd largest Port, Sector New York must be ready for all threats, at all times,” said Lt. Cmdr. Frank Florio, Chief of Enforcement at Coast Guard Sector New York. “When Sector New York is supporting high-visibility operations, we ensure we request additional forces so that we can better deter and defend against any threat or potential attack.”
The MSRT, appropriately called a “ready assault force”, conducts maritime threat response unilaterally or as part of an interagency adaptive force package. The teams are capable of interdicting, boarding, and verifying threats, and when required, engaging in offensive operations against a hostile threat.
“This is a very good type of exercise for a Sector to be involved in,” said Capt. Jeffrey Dixon, Deputy Sector Commander of Coast Guard Sector New York. “Not only does it speak to one of our core missions, but it demonstrates to port partners just exactly how much capability the Coast Guard brings to the equation. MSRT does an excellent job and Sector New York was delighted to have them aboard. They provide the kind of enhanced capability that every sector commander wants in his toolbox.”
What was significant about this exercise was that it wasn’t just a normal New York day; the scenario was set to occur during one of the city’s most sensitive times, the United Nations General Assembly. Due to the heightened security of the UNGA, the MSRT would’ve already been requested and forward deployed on standby in the NYC area.
“MSRT has supported operations [in NYC] such as Fleet Week and the United Nations General Assembly,” said Florio. “Sector New York requested this unique capability to support a Short Notice Maritime Response (SNMR) and when applicable an evacuation capability for the President of the United States or other U.S. or foreign dignitaries. For planned, high visibility operations, Sector New York wants the MSRT forward deployed to the AOR, pre-positioned, and maintaining a B-0 posture.”
Recently, the MSRT was deployed to New York during Superbowl XLVIII in February 2014. They served as an additional layer of defense along with port partner agencies, crews from Coast Guard Station New York, and Maritime Safety and Security Teams from New York and Boston.
The MSRT falls under the Coast Guard’s DSF as part of the service’s Maritime Trident of forces, along with Maritime Safety and Security Teams, Tactical Law Enforcement Teams, Port Security Units and regional strike teams. The MSRT can be deployed as a sole response or in coordination with other DSFs, shore and maritime-based forces: including Coast Guard stations, cutters, and aircraft.
“It’s important to know that the MSRT is scalable in the size of their response to an event or mission,” said Capt. Brian Thompson, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team. “Depending on the scope of the mission or the event, will determine how many team members are needed to deploy and their areas of expertise, in order to effectively complete the mission.”
By working closely with the MSRT and conducting exercises like this one, Coast Guard sector commanders will be able to gain a better understanding of the mission capabilities of the MSRT and how this specialized unit can provide support during national special security events and an enhanced level of protection against terrorism threats.
“I believe the MSRT should be deployed in support of any high-visibility response operation that may require a short notice maritime response,” said Florio. “I also believe the MSRT should be requested [to] participate in sector exercises. The more the MSRT deploys, the more the unit will understand the intricacies of the varying sector [areas of responsibility] and the more the Coast Guard will understand the MSRT capabilities and limitations.”
Click any photo for more from the exercise.