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Massachusetts Guardsmen search liquefied natural gas tanker 
The LNG tanker, Maran Gas Coronis 

The liquefied natural gas  tanker, Maran Gas Coronis docked at port. (Courtesy photo)

USCG Boarding team with members of the 1st CST

United States Coast Guard Boarding team with members of the 1st 1st Civil Support Team (WMD) Massachusetts National Guard Mass., Feb. 23, 2010. (Courtesy photo)

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Gallagher, 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard  

As the city slept, a 900-foot ship loaded with liquefied natural gas passed safely through Boston Harbor under heavy guard to a terminal in Everett, Mass., Feb. 23, 2010.

The LNG tanker, Maran Gas Coronis, escorted by the U.S. Coast Guard, Massachusetts State Police, and Boston Police patrol boats safely made it to its destination and unloaded it’s highly flammable cargo without incident.

Although large tankers like the Coronis have delivered LNG to Everett for more than a decade, this particular ship was met with heightened concern from local citizens, state and national media outlets and politicians because its last port of call was Balhaf, Yemen.  Yemen has been portrayed by some media outlets as having ties to terrorist groups.

The controversy that surrounded the situation was that the ship may have been harboring terrorists who boarded in Yemen or that the ship itself could have become a weapon of mass destruction via sabotage or attack. Although concerns may have been well founded, there was a strict security protocol completed prior to the ships entry into Boston Harbor that not many people may have been aware of.

Two days before the Coronis would steer through the Port of Boston; members of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 1st Civil Support Team rose from their bunks and began to prepare with the U.S. Coast Guard Boston Sector for its first sea-fearing mission in its eleven-year history.  The mission was the security boarding of the Coronis anchored five nautical miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Army Maj. Martin Spellacy, commander, 1st CST, was the first Soldier to embark on the mission, boarding the Juniper (WLB 201), a 225-foot Coast Guard Cutter, to work with the USCG Command and Control element where the entire ship-boarding mission would be tracked.  Reconnaissance noncommissioned officer, Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Kleinebreil would later transfer to the Juniper to coordinate the communications between the ship-boarding teams and the USCG Liaison Officer, Army Maj. Matt Woolums, at the Boston Unified Command Center.

The boarding teams comprised of USCG, DHS, and 1st CST personnel waited on the docks, out in the cold for two brand new LNG tugboats to pick up them up and take them to their objective. The teams boarded the tugs, and loaded their necessary equipment and instruments.  Once loaded, the tugboats steered east and continued towards Massachusetts Bay and the Coronis. 

It took more than an hour for the three vessels to reach the Coronis anchored off shore. The 1st CST members took the time during the transport to prepare their Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) detection equipment and discuss their ship boarding procedures they had learned earlier.   

As the tugs pulled aside the tanker, Army Sgt. James Kivlehan of the 1st CST said, “I thought to myself how massive the vessel was.” 

The teams boarded the vessel after the weapons team armed with semiautomatic rifles cleared and secured the bridge.  Members of the 1st CST boarded and broke off into separate teams with USCG and DHS personnel on deck.

As the boarding team questioned crew members and searched for stowaways, CST members Staff Sgt. Maxim McKenna and Staff Sgt. Frank Charette patrolled the exterior of the vessel monitoring for the presence of any military CBRN hazards with their detection equipment.

Inside the house of the ship, Sgt. 1st Class Aubrey Maddox and Sgt. James Kivlehan patrolled the vast engine room and inspected the many compartments throughout the structure in search of suspicious activity or any hazardous material that could be ultimately used as a source in a potential terrorist attack.

For six hours the teams patrolled the ship, conducting their sweeps and security clearings.  Simultaneously on board the CGC Juniper a robotic ROV submarine was employed to inspect for the presence of high explosives along the hull and the rudder of the Caronis in order to fully clear the ship as safe to enter the Port of Boston.   

Upon completion of the mission, the teams re-boarded their respective tugboats and returned to USCG Boston Sector for re-deployment.  The USCG patrol boat ‘Flying Fish’ remained with the Coronis to keep twenty four hour surveillance on the tanker until it was cleared to enter port.

Spellacy said bringing the 1st CST’s high level of CBRN analytical and detection capabilities together with the security training provided by the USCG helped established the conditions necessary for a successful joint maritime inspection operation.

“More importantly it set the stage for future CST and USCG missions in a maritime environment,” said Spellacy.

A week prior to the mission the entire 1st CST had finished a USCG Shipboard train-up in preparation for the boarding.  The USCG Sector Boston Boarding Team instructed the unit on the authority and jurisdiction of the mission, to include the use of force continuum, tactical procedures and ship-boarding procedures. The training culminated with the unit firing the USCG Practical Pistol Qualification at Fort Devens, Mass., and testing their dry suits in the swimming pool at Hanscom Air Force Base.