Marines invade USS La Salle;

13 Sep 2000 | JO1 Jason Chudy

Twenty-two crewmembers of the motor vessel La Salle learned a valuable lesson Wednesday night: if queried about compliance with United Nations sanctions and then told to stop for inspection, do as you're told. The consequences of not complying weren't pleasant, with four dozen U.S. Marines landing on the vessel's flight deck to carry out the inspection by force.

The motor vessel, in reality, was the Sixth Fleet Command Ship USS La Salle (AGF 3) and the nearly two dozen members of the vessel's crew were sailors from the ship's Deck Department. Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), however, weren't acting as they boarded and
secured the ship for inspection.

Ens. David Walker, La Salle's first lieutenant, played the vessel's master during the training.

"The Marines were conducting a takeover of a motor vessel that refused to comply with United Nations sanctions," he said.

"This is like operations in the Persian Gulf where U.S. Navy ships conduct interdiction operations and try to divert or stop and board ships.

"If they get one that refuses and continues to run, they call in the VBSS team."

The Visit, Board, Search and Seizure team (VBSS) that boarded La Salle was made up of 48 Marines embarked on four CH-46 transport helicopters from the USS Saipan Amphibious Ready Group.

Two Cobra gunships and two armed Huey helicopters flew cover and distracted the vessel's crew while 24 Marines fastroped to the flight deck from two of the CH-46s.

"We can use a variety of means (for boarding), as you saw today by coming on by helicopter," said Gunnery Sgt. Marshall Lewis of the MEU's Second Force Reconnaissance Detachment. "We also have the ability to come on by boat. There are certain scenarios that would cause us to choose what course of action we would decide to go with."

Once on board, the two dozen Marines secured the flight deck to allow the final two CH-46s to land and disembark their troops.

"Their mission is to seize and secure and make safe for the prize crew," Walker explained.

For the 26th MEU Marines, making M/V La Salle safe meant corralling the crew and securing a number of key locations on the ship, including the bridge, engineering plants and communications facilities.

A prize crew consisting of a navigator, helmsman and engineers then embark to operate the ship while the crew is being detained. 

Once the ship is searched, there are a few options. If the vessel is carrying prohibited cargo, it can be diverted to port or, if not carrying anything in violation of the sanctions, it can be released, But until the determination is made on what to do with the vessel, the Marines are in charge.