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Home Team at midnight: Keeping Singapore safe while sailing the open seas
Every hour, every day and under any weather condition, officers from the Police Coast Guard sail the seas to keep Singapore and its territorial waters safe and secure.

Home Team News
Vessels from the Police Coast Guard’s Coastal Patrol Squadron at Brani Base. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

18 July 2013: 1500 hours

Setting off at 4 in the afternoon, 12 officers from the Police Coast Guard (PCG) boarded Blacktip Shark, a 35-metre-long coastal patrol craft used by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to provide coastal security in Singapore’s waters.

Commanding Officer of the vessel, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Chong Kian Cheong, 58, checked his watch, looked up at the skies and informed his crew of the potentially rocky journey ahead.

The men then continued their work, arranging their weapons as the helmsman manoeuvred the vessel away from the harbour, heading for the open sea.

It was another 24-hour patrol duty for DSP Chong and his crew.

They were to ensure that Singapore’s waters remain safe by preventing the intrusion of illegal immigrants or unlicensed foreign vessels which may carry weapons or other contraband items amongst others.

Having spent 41 years with the SPF, DSP Chong knows clearly the signs of what one would term as a “suspicious vessel”.

“Vessels which start travelling really fast when they see us, dark or unlit vessels at night or vessels carrying large bulky crates wrapped in plastic bags, these are tell-tale signs,” said DSP Chong.

With advanced technology such as the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), Radars and Electro Optics and other identification systems, navigation and tracking of vessels becomes more accurate.

Sitting grandly on the vessel’s bridge is the Typhoon MK 25 gun, which is controlled remotely and is able to hit a target 2.7 kilometres away.

Home Team News
At sunrise, the PCG Patrol Craft Blacktip Shark heads for the mainland. Sitting on the vessel’s bridge is the Typhoon MK 25 gun (covered), which is controlled remotely and is able to hit a target from 2.7 kilometres away. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

1840 hours

As the sun set, officers who were not on duty began food preparations in the galley (a kitchen on the vessel).

Half an hour later, the fragrant aroma of turmeric and onions filled the air as curry chicken was being prepared.

Served in a giant pot, the curry chicken was dished unto plates of steaming briyani rice, topped with raisins and cashews.

As 18 July 2013 fell within the month of Ramadan (a religious observance where Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset), non-Muslim officers invited those who were breaking their fast to have dinner first, while they took over their duties during dinner.

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Staff Sergeant Asreeno Bin Aswar making a final check on the night’s dinner: Chicken Curry and Biryani Rice. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

“Many of our officers can cook really well because they learn it from their mothers and wives. We get an array of dishes everyday from all cultures,” said DSP Chong.

The mess room was a small area made up of two counter tables and a long sofa.

This was an area where stories, food and laughter were shared amongst patrol officers.

A bright pink pitcher of bandung (a rose syrup beverage) was passed around as officers poured the drink into tiny plastic cups.

“Back in the 80s, we didn’t have high-tech systems to help us, so we used our eyes and ears for information. We can tell from sea winds if the rain is going to hold up, we can hear the passing boats and gauge their distance from our vessel,” said Senior Station Inspector 2 Soon Thiam Yeow, 52, Covering Executive Officer, who has been with PCG for the past 33 years.

Over dinner, the tanned and chirpy SSI2 Soon shared with the younger officers stories about his early years as a coastal patrol officer.

He recalled an incident in 1982 involving a house breaking incident on St. John’s Island.

“Four men entered St John’s Island illegally on a sampan and broke into a house, which so happened to belong to a special constable of the police force,” said SSI2 Soon.

“So the special constable quickly called the ops room and rang us (the nearest police boat) to bring back up. We were nearer to the island than the land divisions so we cordoned off the island,” he said.

“When the robbers tried to escape, they rammed their sampan into our boat and we had to open fire on their engines so that they couldn’t escape and we arrested them one by one,” SS12 Soon continued.

“I guess the robbers robbed the wrong house that day,” he chuckled.

Home Team News
Coastal patrol officers perform random checks on passing vessels to ensure that all legal travel documents and licenses are in place. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

2330 hours

The vessel rumbled to a halt as the officer on watch spotted a passenger boat leaving a ship and decided to do a check.

A bright beam from the vessel’s anti-fog strobe light signalled to the boat to stop.

Two officers then boarded the passenger boat to check on their travel documents, looking out for suspicious people or items on board the boat.

 “Most of the passengers are shipping crew from all over the world, so we have to explain to them in a professional and decisive manner that this is part of our routine check for contraband items, weapons, the boatman’s license etc.,” said Staff Sergeant (SSGT) Asreeno Bin Aswar, 35, Coxswain of the vessel who went onboard the passenger boat to conduct checks.

0100 hours

The seas had turned rough.

Relentless waves beat against the hull of the vessel, causing it to bob violently up and down and occasionally sway left and right.

Special Constable (SC) Sergeant Track Tan, 21, Leading Radar Plotter, who is currently serving his National Service with the SPF said that sea conditions were far worst during the monsoon season.

“When I first joined, I was very nauseous all the time and when I went back on land, I could still feel the ground moving,” he said.

Patrol officers who were not on duty retired to their bunks to catch some sleep.

The accommodation compartments each had six narrow beds, three on each side of the wall.

Head rooms were low, so officers had to do a low crawl to get into bed.

Home Team News
Watch keepers on the night duty at the bridge onboard PCG Patrol Craft Blacktip Shark. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

0730 hours

A loud alarm was heard and a booming voice over the intercom announced that training sessions were to begin.

All 12 officers, smartly dressed, assembled at the planning room within seven minutes sharp.

As part of their daily training, DSP Chong conducts drills for his men to ensure that they are well prepared for any scenario.

“Gentlemen, today we will rehearse a ‘Man Overboard’ exercise as well as a fire-fighting exercise,” said DSP Chong.

He then gave instructions for his crew to prepare the necessary items required for the exercise.

For the first exercise, a life buoy (representing a man) was thrown off the vessel to simulate a fallen crew member.

Within seconds, the buoy drifted with the strong currents and was a tiny orange spec bobbing a long way off the vessel.

The officer who spotted the buoy constantly pointed the boat to the direction of the victim and the helmsman manoeuvred the boat efficiently over.

Home Team News
SSGT Asreeno (left) assisting fellow PCG officer in wearing his breathing apparatus before he responds to the fire in a fire-fighting exercise onboard. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

A scenario where a bunk catches fire was then played out.

Officers then assessed the fire and carried out evacuation and conducted a fire-fighting exercise.

Donning the heavy breathing apparatus set, one of the officers then climbed down the narrow ladderwell to put out the fire.

Upon completion of their training session, DSP Chong and SSI2 Soon gave their feedback and observations at the round-up session.

“These onboard training sessions help to keep officers on their toes and not take safety for granted. The training also complements all our in-service trainings that we have so that our skills are constantly upgraded,” said DSP Chong.

Live firing of guns and rifles also take place annually in the South China Sea as part of the officers’ training.

PCG often conducts overseas training with neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Japan.

Captains from the various countries would share navigational training, passage planning, share cases of interest and learn about disaster prevention and relief.

Home Team News
Final group shot of the crew members on board Blacktip Shark. PHOTO: Matthew Wong

1400 hours

Fair weather prevailed and Blacktip Shark sailed smoothly back to Brani Base.

Armoury was returned and the ship was packed, cleaned and refuelled, ready for its next crew.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Joanne Yan
  2. 12 September 2013
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