'Terrorists' arrested in waters off Changi in multi-agency maritime security exercise

by Lim Min Zhang

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - A variety of maritime terrorism scenarios were tested during this eight-day exercise, to test the readiness of agencies to respond to such threats. 

"Terrorists" in speedboats, suspected of smuggling arms, were intercepted in Singapore waters off Changi Coast Road, but not before one of them "escaped" to the eastern coast.

But he was swiftly arrested, along with an accomplice, by officers from the Coastal Hardening Strike Force outside the National Service Resort and Country Club, who arrived on the scene in police cars with sirens blaring.

The land demonstration was a first for Exercise Highcrest, a multi-agency biennial maritime security exercise coordinated by the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, held from Oct 19 to 26 this year.

On Thursday (Oct 26), Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman observed this scenario play out, one of a number to test the readiness of multiple agencies to respond to such threats.

The sea portion involved a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Littoral Mission Vessel, two Police Coast Guard high speed interceptors and a patrol interdiction boat. Warning flares were fired by one of the interceptors and the patrol interdiction boat, before the terrorist boats were surrounded by the vessels.

This year, Exercise Highcrest involved about 300 personnel from 14 government agencies, including the RSN, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Customs, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

A range of maritime terrorism scenarios were tested during the eight-day exercise, including the sea infiltration and a chemical attack on board a ferry.

Scenarios in previous Highcrest exercises included storming of a hijacked merchant vessel and rescuing hostages on a passenger coach at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

The exercise took place between the phases of another counter-terrorism drill, Exercise Northstar. The first phase of Exercise Northstar took place last Tuesday (Oct 17) with a simulated attack where gunmen shot people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomber blew himself up in Changi Airport Terminal 3.

Phase 2 of Northstar will happen this Saturday (Oct 28) at the Home Team Tactical Centre.

Colonel Nicholas Lim, who is the director of the National Maritime Sense-making Group, the intelligence arm of the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, said that it is the first time that Highcrest is working with Exercise Northstar, to see how scenarios that happen on land could impact sea operations, and vice versa.

"It's important that that we actually have a presence in the maritime domain, with it being porous and easily accessible, so that we're able to stop people from leaving (if there's an attack that happens on land)," he said.

Singapore's maritime environment also poses unique challenges as it is among the busiest in the world with over a thousand vessel movements every day, said Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Ang Jeng Kai, operations group commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, who was involved in Exercise Highcrest.

"Many of (the vessels) are small craft that traverse across our waters so it is not easy to identify a threat," he said.

To discern potential threats, a group of sense-making assistants at the National Maritime Sense-making Group, such as Corporal First-Class Wesley Mark Lincoln, 20, piece together multiple sources of information, including both online and official sources - like the list of people entering the country from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

He said: "In order to sieve through all the data meticulously, you definitely need patience."