Allied navies learn to save lives at sea as other ships ‘threaten’ them

A helicopter flies off a Danish frigate on June 10, 2018, as part of a mass-casualty recovery drill in the Baltic Sea. Search-and-rescue training has been stepped up in this year's BALTOPS, which brought together 22 nations to improve tactical teamwork in the Baltic region.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 11, 2018

BORNHOLM, Denmark — Some of the sailors drifted in a life raft, while others treaded water without life vests.

As an allied frigate arrived to save them, a hostile voice blared over the ship radio.

“We won’t hamper search-and-rescue efforts but you are in our waters – you are not supposed to be operating in our waters without our authority,” said the voice from a nearby patrol boat.

“These are our waters,” a stern voice from the frigate replied. “If you don’t turn away immediately, your action will be taken as hostile.”

The simulated standoff between fictional countries added a twist to the mass casualty rescue drill conducted Sunday during NATO’s Baltic Operations exercise, a two-week event including the United States and 15 other militaries.

In reality, the frigate was a Danish salvage ship being confronted by two British patrol boats.

“It’s a realistic scenario of what can happen,” said British Lt. Lauren Weber, commanding officer of the HMS Puncher, a training vessel that transported the drill’s participants. “Now they have to contend with the enemy being there.”

The scenario expanded upon the international recovery drills that normally take place during the annual drill, which allied leaders deem crucial to their collective naval defense.

“We introduced it in a small way last year,” British Rear Adm. Guy Robinson told Stars and Stripes. “This year we really ramped it up.”

The confrontation Sunday may have been staged, but the dialogue was unscripted. The frigate’s radio operator unwittingly divulged that the crew was rescuing fellow sailors from a sunken submarine – an admission that made Weber wince.

The adversary then grilled the frigate on why a submarine was in territorial waters and what nation it belonged to. The exchange grew tenser and the patrol boats drew closer to the frigate.

The head of the patrol offered to pick up the sailors, but the frigate refused the aid and told the patrol boats to leave the area. Finally, the boats withdrew.

The rescued sailors had various make-believe maladies, such as wounds, decompression illness and hypothermia. Medics had to diagnose and treat them without talking to the sailors, who pretended to be unable to speak.

“It’s more real life,” said Sammie Ring, a British Royal Navy medic who played a rescued sailor. “Instead of having dummies, you have real people.”

Other scenarios acted out during the drill included a downed pilot and broken-down ships requiring aid. Robinson said the broad scope was effective in revealing nations’ hidden capabilities.

Weber said these exercises show the allies can collaborate in critical situations.

“It proves there is no language barrier,” Weber said. “We can work as one NATO operation.”

Twitter: @wylandstripes

A rescue boat reaches the Leopold Rosenfeldt, a Danish salvage vessel, which held the participants pretending to be stranded in the water with no life vests. The mass-casulaty drill on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in the Baltic Sea was an example of how search-and-rescue training was expanded for this year's BALTOPS.

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