Halfway point for CTF 150 rotation

FS Courbet, a frigate of the French Marine Nationale, has already made several significant drug seizures during CTF 150. SUBMITTED

CTF 150 reaches the halfway mark

By Lt(N) Tony Wright,
CTF 150 Public Affairs Officer

The present rotation of Combined Task Force 150, led by Australia and supported by Canada and New Zealand, reached its half way point on 22 January 2020. With nine weeks since assuming command and nine more to go until command is passed to the incoming French led rotation, the team has made some significant contributions to maritime security in the wider Gulf region.

CTF 150, headquartered in the Kingdom of Bahrain, is one of three combined task forces within Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The 33 member nations of CMF work together to promote security, stability and prosperity across approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters, which encompass some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

Day to day, the CTF 150 Battle Watch and staff direct ships from participating countries working in support of CTF 150 to conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO) so that legitimate commercial shipping can freely transit the region, and to seek out and seize drug shipments and other illicit cargo that fund and support terrorist operations in the region and around the world.

One could say this team blew past the halfway point some time ago since preparation for this mission began in late September 2019. That was when Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) personnel travelled to Sydney, Australia to begin pre-deployment preparations with their Royal Australian Navy (RAN) counterparts.

During the six weeks of pre-deployment preps, the three nations came together to work through and develop standard operating procedures and concepts of operations for the upcoming deployment. The group conducted Mission Readiness Evaluations at the Naval Synthetic Warfare Centre which made sure they formed as a team.

“The pre-deployment prep was vital,” said LCdr Curtis MacAulay, an RCN Naval Warfare Officer deployed with the team. “We needed to get our heads into the books, plans and after action reports from previous deployments so we could understand the mission and the area of operations. We had to do it together, Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, so we could develop a common language and work as a team. It worked out very well and we are all on the same page when it comes to this mission.”

Fast forward to December 5, 2019 and Australia assumed command of CTF 150. Eight days later, they had their first drug seizure.

French Ship (FS) Courbet, a frigate of the French Marine Nationale seized 3,500 kg of hashish from a dhow in the Gulf of Oman.

Not to be outdone, HMS Defender of the Royal Navy followed less than a week later with a seizure of a record 131 kgs of crystal methamphetamine. That amount was a huge increase in the amount of crystal methamphetamine being smuggled year on year, with 257kg interdicted in 2019, versus only 9 kg in 2018.

In 2020, it seems Courbet came back determined to outdo their 2019 performance.

Only five days into the New Year, on January 5, 2020, Courbet seized another 1,500kg of hashish from a dhow in the Arabian Sea.

On January 17 and 18, Courbet was at it again. In 24 hours Courbet’s boarding teams conducted three boardings and searches. Two were a bust, but the third search netted 3,000 kg of hashish from a vessel, again, sailing in the Gulf of Oman.

Altogether, more than 8,000 kg of narcotics have been seized in the first half of this deployment by ships working in direct support of CTF 150. Those drugs have an estimated regional wholesale value of $4.3 million USD. Had these drugs reached their intended destination, the street value would have been many, many times more.

“We trained hard and prepared for this mission,” said New Zealand’s Capt(N) Sean Stewart, Deputy Commander of CTF 150. “The results we’ve had so far with the support of the French Marine Nationale and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy are brilliant, but we are not going to slow down. Right up to the last day, we are going to push hard and keep up the pressure on those who exploit the maritime domain for illegal purposes.”

Throughout their time in Bahrain, the team has been watching the news and following the devastation from the Australian bushfires. It motivated CTF 150 to act.

In an effort to raise funds to support those in need, CTF 150 personnel from all three nations are conducting a number of fundraising activities to support the Australian Red Cross Bushfire Disaster Appeal.

One such activity has been branded “The Kangaroo Hop Home for Charity”. The team of 28 personnel is aiming to walk, run, cycle or swim the equivalent distance of their way back to Australia by the time the deployment is over. The distance required has been calculated based upon the need to not only reach the shores of Australia, but to assist the Canadians and New Zealanders to get home first. Each team member is required to complete approximately 7.5 km per day. The target is designed to encourage the team to challenge themselves physically whilst doing so for a great cause.

“It’s difficult to be here and watch what is going on at home,” said LCdr Melanie Lenard, a RAN Training Systems Officer assigned to the mission. “Many of us know someone who has been affected by the fires and we wanted to do something to help.”

The team has given themselves a goal of raising $10,000 by the end of the deployment. They are almost half way there and everyone can help them. CTF 150 is encouraging people to support through donations via the following fundraising page with the Australian Red Cross.

Please feel free to also leave a comment on this page as the team would love to hear from everyone who contributes to the effort. The donations raised will go directly to the Australian Red Cross in March 2020.

The CTF 150 team is still focused on the mission but, of course, they are looking forward to returning home to Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to reunite with friends and family in late March.