Surface Forces: November 4, 2003


the U.S. Navy is creating a "boarding party" specialty for sailors. Armed boarding parties were a common part of naval warfare 150 years ago. But the advent of steel warships and longer range weapons made boarding obsolete. Until the last decade or so, that is. The embargo against Iraqi during the 1990s saw American and allied warships boarding thousands of cargo ships each year, to check for contraband. The war on terror has led to more boardings, often against ships that might contain an armed crew determined to resist. While the navy often uses SEAL teams for boardings that appear dangerous, even the most innocent looking ship could contain armed and hostile crewmen. Last year, in the Persian Gulf alone, U.S. boarding parties of a dozen or so sailors boarded 2,689 ships. So far this year, there have been 2,367 boardings in the Persian Gulf. While the navy has developed an instructional manual for sailors on boarding parties, until now there has not been a job specialty for it. Ships would call for volunteers to join the boarding party, and these men and women would go through the training. On most ships, there are enough volunteers, so no one had to be ordered to do it. Training for boardings, and actually doing them, breaks up the tedium of long periods at sea. There is a two week training course for members of the party, and some ships have boarding parties where most members have been doing it for over a year. Members of the boarding party have to qualify with rifles and pistols, be good swimmers and be in good enough shape to scamper up ladders hanging over the side of a ship. Maybe one in a hundred boardings will result in violence, and one in a thousand will result in serious injury or death to a member of the party. The new boarding party ratings might also be merged with new security measures taken while ships are in port. The boarding parties would still have some volunteers, but those sailors doing it full time would be better trained and experienced. 


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