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Three U.S. Coast Guardsmen look over the bow of the USNS Henry J Kaiser on Wednesday toward the Japanese helicopter destroyer Ise and the small craft it has sent as part of a weapons of mass destruction detection drill during Fortune Guard in Hawaii.

Three U.S. Coast Guardsmen look over the bow of the USNS Henry J Kaiser on Wednesday toward the Japanese helicopter destroyer Ise and the small craft it has sent as part of a weapons of mass destruction detection drill during Fortune Guard in Hawaii. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

Three U.S. Coast Guardsmen look over the bow of the USNS Henry J Kaiser on Wednesday toward the Japanese helicopter destroyer Ise and the small craft it has sent as part of a weapons of mass destruction detection drill during Fortune Guard in Hawaii.

Three U.S. Coast Guardsmen look over the bow of the USNS Henry J Kaiser on Wednesday toward the Japanese helicopter destroyer Ise and the small craft it has sent as part of a weapons of mass destruction detection drill during Fortune Guard in Hawaii. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

Members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force regroup after climbing aboard the USNS Henry J Kaiser Wednesday during a sea drill. Along with forces from South Korea and the U.S., the Japanese sailors practiced how to board and secure a ship believed to be transporting weapons of mass destruction during a drill for Fortune Guard in Hawaii.

Members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force regroup after climbing aboard the USNS Henry J Kaiser Wednesday during a sea drill. Along with forces from South Korea and the U.S., the Japanese sailors practiced how to board and secure a ship believed to be transporting weapons of mass destruction during a drill for Fortune Guard in Hawaii. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard's Martime Safety and Security Team-Honolulu does his part to secure the deck of the USNS Henry J Kaiser, which posed as a ship illegally transporting weapons of mass destruction during the week-long Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard's Martime Safety and Security Team-Honolulu does his part to secure the deck of the USNS Henry J Kaiser, which posed as a ship illegally transporting weapons of mass destruction during the week-long Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A member of a team from the South Korean navy climbs a rope ladder onto the USNS Henry J Kaiser Wednesday in Hawaii during a drill for the Fortune Guard exercise. The team secured the bridge of the ship, questioning the the crew about their cargo and paperwork.

A member of a team from the South Korean navy climbs a rope ladder onto the USNS Henry J Kaiser Wednesday in Hawaii during a drill for the Fortune Guard exercise. The team secured the bridge of the ship, questioning the the crew about their cargo and paperwork. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A member of the South Korean navy boarding team frisks two officers of the Royal Australian Navy who are posing as crew members of the carrying weapons of mass destruction aboard their ship. The drill held Wednesday in Hawaii was part of Fortune Guard.

A member of the South Korean navy boarding team frisks two officers of the Royal Australian Navy who are posing as crew members of the carrying weapons of mass destruction aboard their ship. The drill held Wednesday in Hawaii was part of Fortune Guard. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force team uses mock guns to secure the lower deck of a vessel containing weapons of mass destruction during a drill Wednesday for the Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii.

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force team uses mock guns to secure the lower deck of a vessel containing weapons of mass destruction during a drill Wednesday for the Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A Coast Guardsman from the Maritime Safety and Security Team-Honolulu simulates the use of a radiation detection device to uncover uranium in a container aboard a ship during the Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii Wednesday.

A Coast Guardsman from the Maritime Safety and Security Team-Honolulu simulates the use of a radiation detection device to uncover uranium in a container aboard a ship during the Fortune Guard exercise in Hawaii Wednesday. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

A Coast Guardsman checks a gas engine-operated saw strapped to the back of one of his teammates during a sea drill Wednesday as part of the Fortune Guard exercise. The diamond-tipped drill can slice through heavy-metal bulkheads if team must seize a ship by force.

A Coast Guardsman checks a gas engine-operated saw strapped to the back of one of his teammates during a sea drill Wednesday as part of the Fortune Guard exercise. The diamond-tipped drill can slice through heavy-metal bulkheads if team must seize a ship by force. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Armed teams from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. boarded a ship Wednesday during a mock search for weapons of mass destruction about 10 miles off the coast of Honolulu.

The at-sea drill was part of the inaugural Fortune Guard exercise, which sprang out of the 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative. President George W. Bush launched the initiative in the wake of growing concern over the inability of nations to legally seize WMDs being smuggled across the seas — even after ships had been stopped and searched.

More than 100 nations have now endorsed the PSI, which seeks to curtail the illegal trade.

Wednesday’s drill, which was observed by about 50 participants from 18 countries in the Pacific region, was held for two reasons, said Lt. Commander David Leather, who works for U.S. Pacific Command on issues involving WMD.

First, the search-and-seize drills demonstrate capabilities that other endorsing nations might want to develop, he said. Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.S. are considered “operational experts” among the endorsing nations of the Pacific.

But the drill is also being held in a public forum because it “demonstrates to possible proliferators that there is a core group of nations out there — likeminded nations — that are not going to stand for proliferation,” Leather said.

For the sea drill, the USNS Henry J Kaiser, a military refueling ship, posed as a commercial tanker.

“This drill is specifically directed at a large commercial ship that may be carrying something that could be used in the production of WMDs,” Leather said. “So it’s not looking for the shiny bomb.”

Boarding was done in three separate phases, with each country’s team working independently.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team-Honolulu wrapped things up by “detecting” uranium-238 in a shipping container.

The heavily armored and armed Guardsmen each carried a radiation “pager” device that automatically beeps when a certain level of radioactivity is detected, said Paul Frantz, the team’s commander. Some radiation is naturally emitted, while others might emanate from fissile material that could be used for nuclear weapons.

“From there they use the secondary equipment to isolate the isotope and are able to send that back to an agency that can identify it and determine if it’s naturally occurring or not,” Frantz said. “From there you can look at the manifest and determine whether that should be there or not.”

Fortune Guard will be held next year in New Zealand, followed by Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

“We want to make sure that it’s happening on an annual basis, that the drum beat continues,” Leather said.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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