Navy woman keeps a sharp eye out for pirates

Today, you may see her as just a tour guide at the Navy@Vivo exhibition at VivoCity.

But at sea, Military Expert 3 (ME3) Lim Jia Yee, 36, is an eagle eye who watches out for the bad guys.

She may be tucked away in an operational room without a view, but she oversees the expanse of the sea on her monitors, looking out for potential threats in the vicinity of the ship.

Two years ago, ME3 Lim was sailing on board the RSS Tenacious in pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, monitoring the movements of suspicious vessels.

The stealth frigate was part of Operation Blue Sapphire, a 31-nation effort to support international counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, and it responded to 21 calls for help.

ME3 Lim worked eight hours a day, but on two four-hour shifts, with 12 hours of rest between shifts, so that she could maintain a high level of concentration every day during the three-month mission.

She spent her rest time catching up on sleep and helping to keep the spirits of the crew up.

Even though there were no major encounters with pirates, there was an incident that affected the crew.

They were supposed to dock at the port at Djibouti, the capital of Republic of Djibouti, but there was an explosion just days before their arrival.

"We couldn't replenish our supplies ashore, but we managed to meet our replenishment needs shortly after," she said.

"We were thankful we weren't at the danger zone where it occurred."


Of her stint, she remembers the blazing hot sun that beat down mercilessly on the crew.

"It was definitely hot," she said.

Despite the temperatures, which reached up to 42 deg C on deck, there was no respite from the constant vigilance the mission needed.

The 2014 stint was one of the biggest missions ME3 Lim has been on.

She said she would not have given away such a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, despite the sacrifices she had to make.

"I wouldn't want a 9-to-5 job even though it can mean weeks or months out at sea," she said.

While she was out on a training mission in the South China Sea in preparation for Operation Blue Sapphire, she received news that her father had died.

She returned to Singapore after the mission and went ahead with Operation Blue Sapphire after settling her father's affairs.

She said matter-of-factly: "After all the training, I didn't want to let it go to waste."

Yesterday, ME3 Lim hosted 29 beneficiaries from the Children's Cancer Foundation and Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home on a sail in the seas off VivoCity.

It is part of the Navy@Vivo exhibition where people can find out more about the capabilities and technology the Navy possesses.

"If you want to find out about the Navy, talk to someone who is in this line," she advised any potential recruit.

ME3 Lim also shared some anecdotes about life at sea, including how younger inexperienced colleagues vomited on duty as they had yet to find their sea legs.

After 16 years, she hardly feels the pitching of the boat any more, she said with a laugh.



VivoCity Promenade


Today till Sunday


Entry to the exhibition is free. But tickets for a tour of the RSS Tenacious are available through balloting at VivoCity.

This article was first published on June 23, 2016.
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