Written by Lt. Jodie Knox.
The Coast Guard is responsible for maritime safety, security and stewardship. Performing these responsibilities requires a high level of training for Coast Guard men and women. The training is especially intense for Coast Guard law enforcement missions such as gaining compliance of potentially dangerous vessels fleeing from a violation of federal law.
Coast Guard members learn how to pursue and neutralize fleeing vessels in a course known as Noncompliant Vessel Pursuit, or NCVP. The course, designed for boat drivers as well as boat crewmembers, teaches Coast Guard men and women how to approach a vessel that may be in violation of a federal law such as drug or migrant smuggling.
In these scenarios, a vessel may not stop when directed to do so by the Coast Guard. The boats driven by pursuit course students, called over the horizon boats, will hail the noncompliant vessel with their blue light and a radio call or loudhailer. If the vessel does not stop, it will often operate in a wild or erratic fashion in an attempt to shake off the Coast Guard vessel in pursuit. It is this type of situation where the course’s tactics come into practice.
“We teach them how to approach the vessel safely, to minimize the risk that is associated with an operation like this. We not only [teach them how] to stop the vessel but also [how] to engage and neutralize the person once the vessel is stopped,” explained Lt. Shannon Scaff, the Advanced Course school chief. “We have a number of different tactics, such as disabling fire that we teach in order to gain control of the noncompliant vessel.”
The course’s training facility has 21 boats of different shapes, sizes and styles to act as noncompliant vessels. They refer to it as their “dirt fleet” where the boats are set up with microphones and cameras so the instructors can watch and critique the students as they run through their exercises. They employ real-life role players to memorize scenarios and act or react according to how the students conduct themselves during a boarding.
“We want to make it more than just a boat course. We have all of our law enforcement duties in one program and it makes the training more seamless. We teach from blue lights to handcuffs ,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Seth Hunt, the NCVP school chief.
Petty Officer 1st Class Orlando Rivera was a student of the course and subsequently assigned to a unit where he has employed the tactics taught to him.
“It’s fast going and high-tempo, but they make sure you are well aware of what to do and what not to do. The first day is classroom training on what to expect, the second day they allow each coxswain to get behind the wheel and they start at a very slow pace. They go through every step at a slow pace with safe speed and distance,” said Rivera. “Then each day they add new stuff. They do it at night and increase the speed and the aggressiveness of the tactics. By the end of the week you are doing everything at full speed and at night. It really helps you get prepared to go out in to the field.”
Rivera explained that at the end of the day the course provides the experience and training needed for the, “coxswain to make the final determination as to whether the tactics are safe to employ. There are other factors like weather, sea state, construction of the other boat that need to be considered.”
This course was recently moved to join the Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, S.C. MLEA is located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center . With the move of the course, the MLEA now serves as a one-stop shop for all Coast Guard law enforcement training.
The MLEA has four schoolhouses based there. The Basic School owns the boarding team member, boarding officer and boarding officer practical courses. The Advanced School has five courses: international boarding officer, radiation detection level II, counter drug operations, ports waterways and coastal security and an integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement operators course – a joint effort course between the U.S. and Canada. The Maritime Enforcement Specialist “A” School qualifies Coast Guard members in a security and law enforcement career rating. The last, and most recent, school to join is NCVP.
“It is a true to life based dynamic training. This is the reason why the MLEA in Charleston is so ideal. Rather than have bits and pieces (of law enforcement training) here and there, now it is all here in one place,” said Scaff.
Moving the NCVP course to the MLEA was not an easy endeavor, taking 10 years of careful planning. Scaff described the process keying in on the need to identify places for the boats to moor and launch from safely. Once that all came together, they realized the most important aspect was what trainees would get out of the move.
“When a new member comes into the Coast Guard and finds him or herself on a law enforcement career track they come to the MLEA for boarding team member and boarding officer training … Then if they end up at a unit with counter narcotics or human trafficking they come back and take the NCVP course. When they come to Charleston, they get exposure to all these areas. It has become a one-stop shopping for all law enforcement training.”