Unmanned vessel used in maritime security drill

An SCDF maritime fire vessel dousing the FK Avatar cargo vessel (far left) with water after a patrol craft from the navy first alerted multiple agencies under the SMCC to the presence of "hijacking" activities.
An SCDF maritime fire vessel dousing the FK Avatar cargo vessel (far left) with water after a patrol craft from the navy first alerted multiple agencies under the SMCC to the presence of "hijacking" activities.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Singapore has conducted a maritime security drill that saw the use of an unmanned surface vessel for the first time in a security operations series codenamed Highcrest.

The exercise is organised by the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC). A total of 900 personnel from 15 government agencies are involved in the five-day exercise, which ends today. They include the Republic of Singapore Navy, Police Coast Guard, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

Yesterday, permanent secretaries Chan Yeng Kit (Ministry of Defence) and Leo Yip (Ministry of Home Affairs) witnessed the exercise near Changi Naval Base. They saw how the 16m-long Venus unmanned surface vessel, developed by ST Engineering, alerted the coast guard to intruder activity by "terrorists" on a small boat, successfully preventing an attack.

Another situation involved the hijacking of a merchant vessel, which required MPA to alert the navy and coast guard. Troops from the Singapore Armed Forces' Special Operations Task Force stormed the "hijacked" vessel , while SCDF and MPA activated manpower to put out a fire and contain an oil spill respectively.

Set up in 2011, the SMCC has been driving efforts to tighten links between various maritime security agencies. The first Highcrest exercise was in 2013, and coordinated security operations between land and sea forces.

Rear-Admiral Frederick Chew Chih Chiang, Commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, said the aim of the exercise is to increase the range of situations that the SMCC is capable of dealing with. New players, such as a crisis negotiation unit from the Singapore Police Force, also showed their capabilities in dealing with a hostage situation.

"In the light of the very uncertain global security situation, it is important for Singapore to have a very robust whole-of-government approach towards maritime security," he said.

The use of the Venus vessel is still under experimentation. Trials have been conducted to test its capabilities in coastal defence and locating mines underwater. Rear-Adm Chew said exploring such unmanned technologies can strengthen the efficacy of maritime security forces and reduce reliance on manpower.

"Unmanned technologies can help to complement manned platforms. Instead of one or two patrol vehicles that can influence only their immediate surroundings, unmanned surface vessels can protect a larger area around the Singapore Strait," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'Unmanned vessel used in maritime security drill'. Print Edition | Subscribe