Visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) is a capability involving Sailors and Marines embarking vessels of interest that Navy and Marine Corps units encounter on the high seas in support of maritime interdiction operations.
“We board vessels in order to enforce United Nations security resolutions and to combat terrorism, piracy, smuggling and human trafficking,” said Lt. j.g. Blake Pauley, the VBSS boarding officer aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21). “The vast majority of boardings are compliant, consensual or take place in response to attempts or acts of piracy.”
The VBSS team aboard New York consists of Sailors with a wide variety of ratings and ranks who volunteer to become members as a collateral duty to help accomplish the Navy’s larger mission of maintaining a secure maritime environment.
“Those involved receive extensive training in search and inspection techniques, small arms proficiency, hand-to-hand combat, swimming and overall fitness,” said Pauley. “Navy teams are highly trained in what they do, but they are not trained or equipped to be an assault force for non-compliant or opposed boardings.”
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) aboard New York handles these duties. Their Maritime Raid Force (MRF) is trained and ready to board vessels when there is a clear intent to harm the boarding team.
“Whenever a boarding is required, the planning heavily involves both teams as the Marine team will turn over the vessel to the Navy’s boarding team,” said Pauley. “The turnover takes place after the MRF has cleared the vessel of hostile actors, or in the case of larger ships, the Navy boarding team may be called on early once a ship’s major controlling stations have been secured.”
“The main goal of VBSS is to build relationships with mariners and foreign ships, while deterring piracy and other illegal activities,” said Lt. j.g. Joshua Sexton, a New York VBSS team member.
New York, components of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 26th MEU are conducting a Combined Composite Training Unit Exercise that is the culmination of training for the Navy-Marine Corps team and will certify them for deployment.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th MEU and is comprised of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), New York, the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group (NBG) 2 and the embarked staff of PHIBRON 4.