From late June to September this year, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team led a multinational task force in coordinating operations to deter and disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The three-month deployment was a success – there were zero piracy cases.
Operating out from its 24/7 operations centre in Bahrain, each personnel would be on duty for up to 12 hours per shift. They had to be ready to react to unexpected developments, and pull his or her own weight, regardless of rank and appointment.
Commander of the task force, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, Colonel (COL) Saw Shi Tat, 43, attributed the success to their strong family spirit.
"People were willing to go above and beyond the extra mile for the team," he said.
Comprising 54 officers and military experts from the Navy, Air Force and Army, the team was formed early – six months before the deployment. They went through two months of training as well as team bonding activities to foster trust and teamwork.
"Our mission there is to deter and disrupt piracy. When nothing happened, it's actually the best outcome," said COL Saw.
Their contributions were recognised at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Defence on 23 Nov, when 54 SAF Overseas Service Medals were awarded in recognition of the SAF team’s successful command of CTF 151.
Another 45 medals were awarded in recognition of SAF personnel’s contributions to the multinational coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A Republic of Singapore Air Force KC-135R air-to-air refuelling jet tanker performed air-to-air refuelling operations for coalition aircraft.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, who presented the medals at the ceremony, commended the SAF personnel for accomplishing their missions with professionalism and dedication.
The SAF has contributed to the multinational effort to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden since 2009 – with piracy numbers dropping from its peak of more than 200 attacks in 2011 to zero successful attacks today, Dr Ng noted.
He added that the SAF's deployment to the Middle East to address the threat of terrorism and piracy have helped to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe and secure, and preserve the peace and security in our region.
"The SAF has gained a good reputation as a valued contributor to regional peace and security… Our counterparts have always been impressed with how our SAF men and women serve with dedication and competence and high standards," he said.
Military Expert Sivalingam S/O Palaniswamy, 47, who is an intelligence warrant officer in the Navy, said: "We prepared very early, months before the deployment.
"We also took away lessons from the previous team. So we were thoroughly prepared to go in."
His role in CTF 151 was to analyse and create timely and accurate situational picture of the area of operations, for the commander and the team. Data included weather, traffic and ships.
Captain (CPT) Jonas Yap, 37, an air planner from the Air Force, had the opportunity to oversee some action. When a commercial sailor suffered a serious head injury out in the sea, CPT Yap worked with a Japanese navy ship and helicopter to coordinate a heli-evacuation.
Careful planning for refuelling had to be done because the distance exceeded the range of the helicopter. CPT Yap was able to tap on his own experience as a search and rescue Super Puma helicopter pilot.
The Japanese helicopter had to first evacuate the sailor from the commercial ship to the Japanese navy ship, before flying him to the nearest hospital on shore in Djibouti.
The injured sailor was able to reach Djibouti in just a few hours. It would have taken the commercial ship an additional day to sail to shore.
CPT Yap added that his deployment would not have been possible, if not for his wife’ strong support.
Just before he left, his wife was pregnant with their second child. And, the couple who has a one-year-old boy, had also just moved into a new house."There was a lot of things changing (in our lives), but my wife understands that I look forward to these deployments, (and) any opportunity that allows me to give back with everything that I have learnt," he said.