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RSS Intrepid returns home

Frigate back from 90-day anti-piracy trip in Gulf of Aden. -TNP
Nathaniel Hong

Sun, Dec 16, 2012
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - His daughter Clara was four months old when he last saw her.

On Thursday, when Major Chan Tze Yang saw her again, she was seven months old and had grown much bigger.

Maj Chan, 35, is one of the 150 crew members of the frigate RSS Intrepid who spent the last three months conducting anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

The Intrepid spent 90 days in action as part of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), a multinational effort to fight piracy in the shipping lanes off Somalia.

The US, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea are some of the countries that also took part in the operations.

The Intrepid conducted surveillance and deterrence operations in the gulf, launching more than 110 sorties with a naval helicopter to provide air surveillance and warn off suspicious boats.

It certainly wasn't easy.

As second-in-charge of the air detachment, Maj Chan oversaw the deployment of the naval helicopter.

He also flew the helicopter on one of the three distress calls that the Intrepid responded to.

Maj Chan cited the weather and the situation as two large challenges he had to face.

He said: "It was very different from our training in the South China Sea. The angle of the sun made it difficult to see hostile vessels in the glare.

"There are days where the sea is bad, other times it's clear. We worked with foggy mornings and hot afternoons."

The journey to the Gulf of Aden was bad enough, with the Intrepid facing almost 2.5m-high waves on the way there.

It was also difficult to tell pirate vessels and ordinary ships apart, he said.

When asked if it was difficult to be separated from his wife and child for such a long period, Maj Chan said that it was, but it was something that had to be done.

"My wife has always been very understanding," he said.

"We both talked about it, and we both agreed that it was the right thing to do... to serve the nation." 


Mrs Tay Su Lynn, Maj Chan's wife, said: "On our side, we have to provide him the moral support. It's difficult for him to be away from family for so long."

The family kept in touch through phone calls made from the ship's satellite phone.

Maj Chan recounts with satisfaction a particular sortie when they received a distress call from a type of boat called a dhow that was being shadowed by two others.

But upon seeing the naval helicopter, the two suspicious dhows turned away.

"We helped to prevent the situation from escalating," he said.

There were always things to be done out at sea. Apart from their main duties, crew myesteembers were also responsible for the small tasks that kept the ship running, such as housekeeping or cooking.

They would also find ways to entertain themselves, such as working out in the gym or talking to each other.

The Intrepid saw no serious action, but Colonel Cheong Kwok Chien, its task group commander, said the trip was fruitful.

"It is not always about firing a weapon," he said. "That is the easiest thing to train. It's about processes, it's about discipline and rigour of thought.

"Even without firing a shot, a lot of our processes were validated in an operations environment.

"We see our people really make it happen, and I'm very heartened."

Col Cheong and Maj Chan were presented with the Overseas Service Medal along with 184 other servicemen to recognise their contributions to the anti-piracy operations.

The medal presentation took place at Changi Naval Base on Thursday.

Senior Minister of State for Defence, MrChan Chun Sing, who presented the medals, said: "The latest report from the International Marine Bureau indicates that the number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden has since dropped to one-third of its previous high."

Singapore will return to patrol the Gulf of Aden for the eighth time in March next year, for another three months.

It will also be its third time commanding the CTF 151.

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