The Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF West) and the U.S. armed force simulates seizing a suspect in transport of illegal narcotics.

A U.S.-instructed training exercise on visiting, boarding, searching, and seizing (VBSS) vessels suspected of perpetrating illegal activities at sea was conducted Thursday at the Puerto Princesa Bay.

The counter-narcotics simulated drill was held among 40 Filipino maritime law enforcers belonging to the PNP Maritime Group, some from the 2nd Special Operations Unit-Maritime Group (2nd SOU-MG), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) to practice and develop counter-narcotics operations under Baker Piston 19-2.

Baker Piston’s iteration this year was organized by the Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF West), a U.S. armed force created to combat drug-related transnational organized crime in the Indo-Pacific Asia.

The scenario presented two teams whose members acted as law enforcers and supposed suspects in the transport of illegal narcotics. Four designated training vessels were also part of the scenario.

On command by a drill instructor, one of the vessels was commanded to leave the pier. Its identity was unbeknownst to the team of law enforcers to test their flexibility.

It would be the vessel where the illegal narcotics will be transferred from another larger ship.

When the law enforcers arrived in the area, they divided into two smaller groups. One group went after the bigger boat and the second raced after the smaller one.

The scenario showed how the law enforcers found a way to climbed and board the larger ship using hook and ladder.

The supposed suspects resisted the law enforcers, but they were subdued.

The simulated exercise also showed how the teams should respond to a plot where there was a casualty on board. The teams showed the procedure to follow on how to transport him for medical emergency.

“There are two vessels, side by side, in the scenario. One vessel was getting ready to offload narcotics to another vessel. The PNP Maritime Group and the Philippine Coast Guard were alerted on this activity and they set forth their ships to intercept. They boarded both boats, both vessels, detained suspects and started a search that will find the narcotics. These evidence were collected and sealed, a report was written, records were collected, and then the ships were brought to the port. The suspects were then turned over to the port police,” Steve Castonguay, spokesperson of the JIATF West, said.

Castonguay said the JIATF West is thankful for the participation of the PCG and the PNP Maritime Group in Baker Piston, which has allowed them for a month to work together, exchange ideas, tactics and skills in the fight against unlawful maritime activities.

“It’s been a real honor for us to be partners with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and working with our friends, all Philippine National Police and Philippine Coast Guard, and Special Operations Unit. For nearly one month, we’ve been working together, exchanging ideas, tactics and skills in the fight against illicit maritime activities, specifically focusing on counternarcotics operations. We’ve gained a greater understanding on how to operate together and we are looking forward to continuing this very important mission,” he said.

On the other hand, maritime police Lt. Colonel Ric Dalmacia said Baker Piston is important for them as maritime law enforcers.

He said the tactics and techniques they learned in the conduct of VBSS is vital in detecting, disrupting, and dismantling drug-related threats even on Palawan waters.

Dalmacia said it is also vital in ensuring Palawan’s security interests against outside forces that have the potential of sowing atrocities at sea.

“This is very important, this is very significant, especially in the reinforcement of maritime law. The PCG and the PNP Maritime Group have learned here about how they can develop their interoperability to strengthen their cooperation during their counternarcotics operations,” said Galicia.

He said the training’s pointers in the conduct of VBSS will also be useful in handling cases of distressed ship and those that can be overtaken by pirates or terrorists.