A member of the boarding party team from HMCS Toronto climbs a ladder to board a Romanian naval ship while conducting a training exercise in the Black Sea.

Able seaman takes on suspicious vessels with boarding team

It’s like a scene out of a movie. A team boards a ship with the intent of stopping illegal cargo from entering the country.

It’s like a scene out of a movie. A team boards a ship with the intent of stopping illegal drugs, cargo or people from entering the country.

But that is one of the jobs of able seaman Chrystal Newton with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Newton, who is based out of CFB Esquimalt and a resident of Victoria, was recently named a member of the naval boarding party team, responsible for checking suspicious vessels for illegal cargo, passengers or drugs being smuggled into the country.

“I like the challenge that basic training was. I thought it would be a fun way to get back into it, get into shape and be challenged again,” said the 30-year-old.

Training for the naval boarding party team was intense and helped prepare members for any situation they could encounter while boarding and searching a vessel.

Members, which included two other women, learned hand-on-hand combat, self defense, and how to take down multiple people. At one point, members were also pepper sprayed and had to attack three dummies.

“It teaches you to fight through the pain, and don’t give up, you have to keep going,” Newton said. “That was fun.”

As a crew member with HMCS Calgary, if they come across a vessel that is deemed suspicious while out at sea, the team is called upon to board, secure and search the vessel.

Newton, along with 19 other members, don attack vests, which include peppers spray, handcuffs or zip ties. Depending on the mission, the team will carry a sig sauer, which is a pistol or a C8, an assault rifle, and must be suited up and ready for the go-ahead order within 30 minutes.

Once the order is given, the alpha wave is the first to board the suspicious vessel to secure it. Members begin with the most vital areas such as the crew muster area, the bridge and the engine room, which allows them to control the ship. Two members will stand with the ship’s crew while it’s being secured. Once it’s secure, the bravo wave boards the vessel and is responsible for searching it, which depending on the size, could take hours.

If the vessel is cleared, they return to HMCS Calgary. However, if illegal cargo is found, the commanding officer will give the order to either detain the crew or call in another authority.

While she hasn’t done any ordered boardings yet, Newton completed a cooperative boarding of a Chilean tanker earlier this year outside of San Diego, searching for illegal drugs and double-checking the manifest to ensure they are not smuggling people into the country.

During that search, Newton was alpha seven, responsible for watching the ship’s crew.

“You don’t want to scare anybody or get anybody rattled up. You just want to keep them calm while your other members are searching and making sure everything is good to go,” said Newton, adding she was on board for about an hour.

The naval boarding party team is only one aspect of her job. Newton, who is a restaurant server-turned able seaman, is also a naval communicator with HMCS Calgary, and is responsible for establishing internal and external communications within the ship.

“You feel a part of a family. There’s always someone going through the same thing as you and there’s always people helping you along. It’s like a big family,” said Newton of being in the navy.