USS MAHAN, At Sea (NNS) -- During counterpiracy operations, when several dynamic evolutions take place at once, the bridge team on board the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) must maintain the appropriate course and speed to ensure mission success and guarantee the safety of the crew.
"The coordination point between having to work the boat deck, with helicopter operations, with the [visit, board, search and seizure] team, and with everything else that is going on, makes it a more dynamic situation in terms of what you have to manage at any given time," said Ensign Katy Gray, one of the bridge team members.
"Things become fast-paced; you have to focus on slowing the picture down so that you can manage all those aspects at one time."
After a suspicious vessel is identified, the ship's visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team must board the skiff or dhow. That's when the officer of the deck, navigator, conning officer, helmsman and other essential bridge watchstanders must keep the ship appropriately placed to provide protection of the boarding teams - and prevent a collision.
Counterpiracy ops often mean a ship is within yards of a small fishing vessel-type craft that may have half a dozen people on it.
"We're trained to maintain a good visual lookout and maintain silence unless giving out information on what's going on," said Seaman Wilson Arce, helmsman.
"When it comes to that time where we are tracking down suspected pirates, we want to make sure to stay a safe distance because we don't know if the vessel might be hostile or possess a capability that could be potentially harmful to the ship. So we get to a distance where the ship is safe and the [rigid-hull inflatable] boats can be launched if required."
USS Mahan may conduct - or prepare for -- several VBSS boardings on any given day, depending on pirate activity. While maintaining course and speed and ensuring safety, the bridge team rapidly receives critical input from numerous sources all at once - the intelligence team, combat, the boarding crew, other coalition ships, merchant vessels in distress, traffic patterns of whales or dolphins, or an in-flight helicopter crew, just to name a few.
As this information comes flooding in, the officer of the deck, navigator and conning officer must process it immediately and make informed decisions on the best way ahead to safely achieve the mission.
"Teamwork is our biggest tactical advantage. Mahan's watch teams are trained to gather, process and disseminate every available piece of information," said Cmdr. Steve Murphy, commanding officer.
"In this mission, it is important that we share information and do so quickly in order to react to the first signs of piracy and improve the overall level of coordination among our coalition partners."
Mahan is currently part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151. CTF 151 is a multinational task force conducting counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. It was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.
For more news from Combined Task Force 151, visit www.navy.mil/local/CTF-151/.