July 12th, 2024

Southern Albertan officer part of overseas counter-smuggling operation

By Herald on July 12, 2021.

Members of HMCS Calgary conduct counter-smuggling operations last month in the Arabian Sea during Operation Artemis, which included Petty Officer Second Class Jason Boisvenue (below) from Pincher Creek. DND photo by Corporal Lynette Ai Dang

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

A member of the Canadian Armed Forces from Pincher Creek is doing his part to combat terrorism and drug smuggling overseas.

On June 14, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Calgary – which includes Petty Officer Second Class Jason Boisvenue – wrapped up a successful counter-terrorism and maritime security mission in the Middle East. From April to June, the ship was deployed on Operation (Op) ARTEMIS, conducting maritime interdiction operations in the Arabian Sea.

It turned out to be a record setting mission for HMCS Calgary, setting two records while performing on the mission with 17 successful counter-narcotics seizures, the most any single ship has made on any rotation in the history of the Combined Maritime Forces.

It also set the record not only in terms of number of seizures, but also in terms of weight of narcotics seized and wholesale dollar value. The ship also set the record for the largest single heroin seizure in CMF history.

“A successful boarding truly is a ship-wide effort,” said Boisvenue via email. “So the support from the ship for our team and Naval Tactical Operations Group spoke volumes to the ship’s overall success. That being said, it’s been a pleasure to lead this team, which is made up of some of the hardest working and dedicated individuals I’ve seen on a boarding team.”

On the mission, the ship worked under the command of the Canadian-led Combined Task Force 150, one of the three task forces operating under CMF, a multinational partnership dedicated to maritime security in Middle-Eastern waters.

As part of Op ARTEMIS, HMCS Calgary interdicted suspicious vessels on the high seas to stop the flow of illicit goods, most frequently narcotics, which regional terrorist and criminal groups use to fund their illegal activities.

While on Op ARTEMIS, the ship worked with the support of CTF-150 headquartered in Bahrain, a Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora aircraft, and the ship’s embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter to detect suspicious vessels at sea, following a rigorous process in accordance with applicable domestic and international law.

When deemed appropriate, HMCS Calgary sent a boarding team to embark the vessels and seize illicit goods. These boardings were mostly conducted by the ship’s embarked Naval Tactical Operations Group team.

“To start the operation, we had a specialty boarding team onboard who mainly led the boardings and our team was utilized to back fill positions and provide support while they conducted most of our boarding operations,” said Boisvenue. “Towards the end, our ship’s own organic boarding party, Alpha Wave, led by our Alpha One and myself, finished out the operation and conducted three successful boardings to finish out the OP.”

The Naval Tactical Operations Group are considered the embarked boarding team, only with the ship for the deployment, while Alpha Wave are the organic boarding team and part of the ship all of the time.

The Alpha Wave boarding team currently consists of 11 members, said Boisvenue, who is the Alpha Two – second in charge – of the team.

“I work hand in hand with our Alpha One (officer-in-charge) to plan and action training exercises and our missions. I also oversee the day-to-day work, training and weapons/equipment maintenance of the other members of the 10-person team.”

There’s a tremendous amount of planning and training prior to an operation, said Boisvenue, who has been with the Canadian Armed Forces for a little over 13 years.

“Alpha One and I plan and coordinate daily training, whether it’s actual boots on the deck scenarios, fitness training or sitting around a table and briefing the team. Our team’s day-to-day mainly revolves around boardings throughout the operation window.”

Boisvenue has been with HMCS Calgary for a little over a year.

“I am a supervisor for our trade as a Boatswain,” he said. “I’m the ship’s Chief Quartermaster who coordinates and qualifies personnel for our duty watches, and I am the Alpha Two for our ship’s Boarding Party.”

While overseas, Boisvenue maintains contact with his wife and son using the wifi hotspots onboard or via email.

“Some days connectivity can be an issue, but they understand that, and I always look forward to messages or Facetime calls from Dad when I have the opportunity.”

There are numerous terrorist groups operating in the CMF and CTF-150 area of operations, which also encompasses global hubs for the production and distribution of hashish, heroin, and increasingly, methamphetamines, creating opportunities for terrorist and criminal organizations to fund their activities through the smuggling of narcotics across the high seas.

The illicit cargos are most often sold to East African markets or redistributed to global markets and terrorist groups and other illicit actors derive great financial benefits from the revenues generated by this illicit drug trafficking. HMCS Calgary’s activities under Operation ARTEMIS disrupted these revenue streams and contributed to enhancing maritime security in the region.

“The OP itself is conducted year-round, with 34 different countries taking part at various times,” said Boisvenue. “We were very busy sometimes, making more than one interdiction a day.”

That makes for a job that is anything but a nine-to-five gig for Boisvenue.

“There is always satisfaction, regardless of finding contraband or not, but in the professionalism of my team and how they conduct themselves while on vessels of interest,” he said. “As for the adrenaline, the rush is always on the boat ride over. Going over scenarios in my mind, briefing the team and the embarkation onto the VOI is usually when the rush hits.”

With Operation ARTEMIS concluded, Boisvenue said the Alpha Wave team – made up of specially trained people on ship from different trades – is currently making their way back to Canada.

“The Alpha Wave boarding team itself is now back working in their various trades onboard, but we still conduct training to ensure skill fade doesn’t creep in.”

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