The Nazis of Daesh

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Chapter 8 – Taskforce Bungarra

A couple of hours earlier, 6:14 am Port Hedland time to be precise, the 296,000 tonne-deadweight cape size[1] bulk carrier Iron Dragon was transmitting a message over channel sixteen on the marine band VHF radio “Bewitched, Bewitched, Bewitched this is Iron Dragon, Iron Dragon, Iron Dragon on channel one-six, please advise your intentions over?”

Iron Dragon had just weighed anchor and was underway to the Port Hedland Pilot Boarding Ground where the pilot would board via helicopter, then navigate her into port. The Ship’s Second Officer was at the bow supervising the anchor operations when he observed the catamaran traversing the anchorage and appeared to be crossing the ship’s intended path, her sails were lowered and she was operating under engines. The Second Officer reported the situation to the bridge. The captain repeated the transmission two more times, but there was no response. He sounded his horn in the hope the yacht would understand his intentions. The distance from the front of the bridge to the bow is 280 metres creating a 1.2-kilometre blind spot forward of the ship at the water-line. The master ordered his second officer remain at the bow so that he could report the yacht’s position back to the bridge.

At around the same time, the Harbour Master had just been briefed on the rail bombing and had decreed that the Port’s Security Level be raised to Level Three[2]. The Port normally operates at Security Level One, however under the Port of Port Hedland’s Security Plan, in the event of an elevated security level, the port is required to close. Closing the port is no easy feat, however, Port Hedland has nineteen berths, fifteen of which are for cape-size vessels, one is for mini-cape size vessels and three general berths which can accommodate vessel with up to around fourteen-metre drafts. Vessels with a sailing draft greater than fourteen metres can only sail when the tide is in their favour[3]. At the time of the decree, fourteen berths were occupied, of which, two ships were loaded and waiting for the tide to sail[4], three were nearing completion and were scheduled to sail on the same tide, six were expected to complete and sail on the following high tide, two were not tide-restricted while one had just berthed and was scheduled to sail on the midday tide on Saturday. Another vessel was proceeding to berth and was already in the channel, she had to continue to the turning basin before swinging and heading back out to sea. To allow for some vessels to trim their cargo and meet safe sailing requirements, the Harbour Master ordered that all loading operations be suspended by no later than 8:00 am. Allowing for the incoming vessel to return to sea and having thirty-minute intervals between each vessel for departure, it would take up to 2:30 pm to fully close the port.

A similar process was happening at the other Pilbara Ports[5] as authorities began to realise the enormity of the task ahead of them. By now, it was suspected that the truck explosion and the rail bombings were linked, even though the two incidences were six-hundred-and-fifty-kilometres apart. There was no way of knowing if more ammonium nitrate was missing, it was conceivable that some of the dangerous cargo could be nearing the outskirts of Perth and that other infrastructure could be targeted such as the rail networks supporting the ports of Port Walcott and Dampier. It was also conceivable that ships in any of the Pilbara Ports could be exposed to a terrorist threat or used by the terrorists to flee the country.

In Perth, the West Australian Police Commissioner activated the Westplan Terrorism Act[6] raising the terrorism threat level status to three. Police units across the state were hastily calling up off-duty officers or recalling officers on leave as they prepared to respond to the emergency. Two teams of detectives and forensic officers were readying to deploy to Bindee Station and Kumarina while roadblocks were hastily being set up at Broom, South Hedland, Karratha, Newman, Northampton, Mullewa, Mount Magnet and Muchea.

In the Port Hedland Shipping Control Tower, the two Vessel Traffic Service Operators were busy formulating the evacuation schedule, contacting agents to ascertain drafts then inputting the details into the DUKC System[7] to determine optimal sailing times for each vessel. They were also engaged in notifying vessels of their situation on VHF channel twelve. Channel twelve is the main port operations channel used at Port Hedland, while channel sixteen is still monitored by the port, it is normally used as an initial ship to ship contact channel and once contact is established, the caller will nominate a channel for the receiver to switch so they can continue the communication. Whilst a Vessel Traffic Service Operator had notified Iron Dragon of her pilot cancellation on channel twelve, neither operator was paying attention to the traffic on channel sixteen. They may have heard Iron Dragon attempting to contact Bewitched in the background, but because this was a vessel to vessel communication and not directed at them, they weren’t taking any notice.

Deep inside the United States compound within the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Earth Station located at Kojarena[8], thirty-five kilometres east of Geraldton, a signals analyst working directly for the Central Intelligence Agency had picked up radio chatter referring to the bombing from emergency services and mining companies. He also picked up the attempted communication from Iron Dragon to Bewitched, while it seemed to be quite a routine transmission, he thought that the timing of the communication and the fact that Bewitched didn’t respond, was more than a coincidence. The Central Intelligence Agency was aware of chatter around a Daesh military specialist with former ties to the United States military operating on Australian soil, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency had issued an instruction that any information even remotely connected be classified Top Secret and be forward directly to his office. Following orders, the signals analyst forwarded the information and recordings directly to Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

At around 7:00 am, the Harbour Master received advice from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that Australian Border Force had cancelled all port clearance certificates[9], all ships will be required to undergo a thorough internal and external inspection before being cleared to sail. He agreed that the twenty-six ships currently at anchor were to maintain their position and any ship being evacuated from the port was to drop anchor at a safe location preferably at a designated anchor position or the closest possible anchor position outside port limits[10]. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority notification came at the request the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

By 8:00 am, the Office of Transport Security[11] had declared that the security levels of all West Australian Ports be raised to level three. Ports in other states were directed to activate their Security Plans for security threat level two. Shipping agents were instructed to advise all vessels (under their management) of the situation and that each ship should raise its security threat level to three. Elsewhere, all West Australian regional airports north of Perth including Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Onslo, Learmonth, Newman, Paraburdoo and even Kalgoorlie were closed to passenger traffic. Being fly in / fly out destinations, most airports were preparing to receive planeloads of mine workers and other workers supporting the mining industry about to commence their rostered swing. There were several flights were already in transit, these were ordered to turn back to Perth. Qantas flight QF 1640 had just landed at Paraburdoo, passengers were escorted to a holding area while the plane refuelled, their luggage remained on board. After refuelling, they were herded back onto the plane which then flew them back to Perth.

An emergency meeting of the Hedland Local Emergency Management Committee[12] was convened for 8:30 am at the Hedland State Emergency Service Complex. Being the Easter long weekend, many locals took the opportunity to get away from the remote town, travelling to Broome, Perth or even Bali, seriously depleting the numbers of personnel available to respond to the incident. Nonetheless, the purpose of the meeting was to determine was resources were available to assist the West Australian Police.

Bindee Station is one-hundred-fifteen-kilometres from Port Hedland, the area around the homestead, campsite, airstrip, bridges and possibly some access tracks would be designated as crime scenes. A Basecamp would need to be set up near the entrance to the station. The Pilbara Regiment[13] had a camp kitchen available, the local Rotary Club had a refrigeration trailer, the Hedland State Emergency Services had portable gazebos, camp chairs, trestle tables, a local hire company had portable generators, lighting, toilets and showers while the committee would seek to source caravans from local residents. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services undertook to set up a mobile communications unit, satellite dish and Clark Mast[14]. While police had ordered restricted access to the Great Northern Highway between Newman, a section of the highway in front of the station was to be used for a temporary airstrip. The local council would arrange a traffic management team to remove all posts and signage at the designated airstrip and provide traffic management to ensure the road was clear for planes to land. The council also agreed to send an aircraft refuelling tanker loaded with Avgas to allow for plane refuelling. The committee agreed to meet again in four-hours to report on and revise their response plan. Similar Local Emergency Management Committee meetings were convened at Meekatharra, Tom Price, Newman, Karratha and Broome.

At 9:00 am, the West Australian Premier declared a State-of-Emergency for the whole of the Pilbara Region and contacted the Prime-Minister’s Office for federal assistance. The West Australian Police Commissioner contacted his counterpart at the Australian Federal Police to request that a federal task force is established. Codenamed ‘Bungarra,’[15] the task force was to be spearheaded by the West Australian Police.

At Langley, the CIA Cyber Operations Unit began researching into the ownership of the yacht by hacking into West Australian Department of Transport database. In January 2016, the yacht was sold via Vittoria Marine to Robert Everest from Baldivis, however, after searching several Australian and West Australian Government databases they could find no evidence that the buyer was an actual person. They then hacked into the server of Vittoria Marine, searching for the sales contract and financial records, it was discovered that the yacht was financed through a United States finance company via a Panamanian bank account. On further investigation, the finance company was found to be a shell company with no activity in the United States.

At the US Joint Defence Facility-Pine Gap[16], satellite control systems operators attached to the US National Reconnaissance Office[17] initiated reprograming the satellite; USA-224[18]. They needed to adjust its orbit so that it would reach its perigee[19] as it passed over Australia. At the time, the satellite was passing over the border between Canada and Alaska on its southerly trajectory and would take another two orbits before it passed over Northern Territory with the third orbit passing just west of the Western Australian coast. On its present trajectory, its perigee would have been while passing the north-eastern tip of Canada before crossing the North Pole and making its southerly trajectory towards Australia. By adjusting its perigee, its orbit was the closest possible to Earth at the optimal time to produce high-resolution images of the search area.

At 12:05 pm (West Australian time), the satellite crossed Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, its altitude was 286 kilometres (the satellite’s perigee). Aiming its 120-megapixel camera towards the Port Hedland area and using the most sophisticated photo-recognition-software at its disposal, the satellite had just a ninety-second-window to scan three-thousand-square-kilometres of the ocean, locate the yacht and transmit its location and images back to the Pine Gap Command Centre. From the camera’s perspective, the ocean appeared as a series of pixels with each pixel representing one-square-metre of ocean, any changes to the pixels was identified as a target. The camera was programmed to search a grid pattern consisting of fifty rows of sixty by one-square-kilometre grids. The search located Bewitched fifty-kilometres west of Bedout Island.

Ninety-eight-minutes later, the following orbit flew directly over Bali and passed the West Australian coast 200 kilometres west of Exmouth. This time, the search area was more refined allowing time to locate the yacht and zoom-in to take close-up images. From an overhead angle, the camera couldn’t detect yacht’s name on the side of the hull, but its profile did match that of a Seawind 1160. The yacht could be seen close hauling as it was sailing into the wind with its sails tightly trimmed, in its wake, it was clear that it had just tacked to starboard. In some of the images, a muscular, tattooed man was spotted sunbathing on the forward deck.

The yacht was located eighty-four-kilometres north of Port Hedland and fifty-three kilometres west of Bedout Island, she was heading north towards Indonesia. Potentially it could reach one of the Indonesian islands in around four days. A report was compiled and forwarded directly the Central Intelligence Agency Director’s office.

Later that day, the United States Navy amphibious assault ship USS Anzus[20] was diverted from her voyage to Jebel Ail to intercept the yacht. She had just cleared the Malacca Strait after sailing from Singapore when she was redeployed. To intercept the yacht, she would have to sail south-east along the west coast of Sumatra, follow the Indonesian coast south of Java and intercept the yacht four-hundred to five-hundred kilometres south of Bali. The ship’s revised passage plan, calculated that sailing at a full speed of twenty knots (thirty-seven kilometres per hour), she would be in a position to intercept Bewitched in approximately eighty-four hours.

Meanwhile, at Naval Air Station Oceana[21] in Virginia, a United States Air Force C-17 cargo plane[22] was preparing to take off with a crack United States Navy Seal special missions’ unit onboard, along with several pallets of specialised equipment. The plane’s direct flight to the United States Naval base at Diego Garcia[23] would take nineteen hours, requiring in-flight-refuelling no fewer than four times.

The following morning at 5:00 am, a specially chartered Qantas Airbus A330-300 took off from Perth Airport, on board were officers from Australian Border Force[24], Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Australian Federal Police (AFP), West Australian Police (WAPOL), and members of West Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Service’s (DFES) Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team. Officers from the federal departments were drawn from across the country arriving in Perth the previous evening. The plane did a quick stopover in Karratha to allow six AMSA and twenty Border Force officers to disembark before flying onto Port Hedland, touching down at 7:20 am. Thirty minutes later an Australian Air Force C-27 Spartan landed at Port Hedland with Australian Navy Clearance Dive Team One and Reserve Dive Team Five[25] on board along with two Zodiac MK2 General Purpose Inflatable Boats and several pallets of dive equipment. A similar plane with Clearance Dive Team four and Reserve Dive Team Seven plus two Zodiacs and dive equipment flew into Karratha.

Police and DFES personnel were bussed off to the South Hedland Police Station to join the Bungarra Task Force, while Border Force, AMSA and Navy personnel commenced the onerous task of systematically inspecting each vessel at Port Hedland and Dampier anchorages. At both ports, six teams (consisting of one AMSA Officer and three Border Force officers) were established and given the task boarding each vessel at anchor, inspecting log books, interviewing crew and searching the vessel’s interior. Navy dive teams were tasked with inspecting each vessel’s exterior hull and sea locker.

Overnight, AMSA had received an incident report from the master of Iron Dragon detailing Bewitched crossing his path. As the yacht was travelling under engine power, the master of Iron Dragon had deemed that Bewitched had breached Collision Regulations[26]. As required under International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations, the master of the vessel is required to report an incident (or near miss incident), that may affect the vessel’s safety, navigation or propulsion equipment or the health of the crew to the local or destination Port State Control Office[27].

Early that same morning, a local police patrol located the abandoned Jeep Cherokee at the Port Hedland Boat Ramp car park. Although most of the victims at Bindee Station had yet to be identified, police did suspect that the Jeep was somehow related to the bombing. A quick licence check revealed that the Jeep’s owner was from Ipswich, Queensland. Officers from the Bungarra Task Force forwarded an urgent request to Queensland Police to track down and interview any close relatives of the Jeep’s owner. By 9:00 am, Queensland Police had managed to locate the couple’s daughter in Brisbane who told them that that she had last heard from her parents when they were at Cape Keraudren[28] on Wednesday (23 March) and she believed they were currently at a station stay somewhere between Port Hedland and Newman.

[1] Cape-size ships are very large dry bulk carriers varying in size from over 150,000-tonne deadweight to over 300,000-tonne deadweight. These ships are too large to traverse either the Suez Canal or Panama Canal and must sail via Cape Horn or The Cape of Good hope when sailing from ocean to ocean.

[2] Under the International Ships and Port Facilities Security Code, all Ports and Ships are required to declare what security level they are operating at. Level one is the level at which ships and port facilities normally operate, level two is the level applying for as long as there is a heightened risk of a security incident while level three the level applying for the period when there is probable or imminent risk of a security incident.

[3] Port Hedland has a tidal range of up to 7 metres, with a mean high tide of 6.8 metres during spring tides and a mean high tide of 4.7 metres during neap times. Sailing drafts more than 18 metres are regularly achievable during spring tides.

[4] On Friday 25 March 2016, the first low tide of 1.15 metres was 06:28 am, the high tide of 6.93 metres 12:43-pm, the second low tide of 1.09 metres was at 06:43 pm, with the next high tide of 6.68 metres at 12:53 am on 27 March.

[5] On 1 July 2014, Port Hedland Port Authority amalgamated with Dampier Port Authority to form Pilbara Ports Authority. Pilbara Ports Authority stretches from the Port of Ashburton near Onslow in the south, to the Port of Port Hedland in the north (around four hundred kilometres). The Ports of Port Walcott and Cape Preston also are within the region but are private operations.

[6] West Australian Government’s emergency risk analysis and response strategy in the event of a potential or real terrorist act. Level three of the plan involves a multi-agency response to an incident with the West Australian Police as the managing agency. Westplans have been prepared to deal with manage and respond to all kinds of emergency situations including fire, flood, cyclone, air crash, ship sinking, human epidemic, oil spill, etc.

[7] The DUKC (Dynamic Under Keel Clearance) is software which benefits to the shipper, ship owner and charterers by maximizing the sailing draft and/or extending the tidal sailing windows. Essentially, the port and shipping channels are digitally mapped (including depths) and real-time weather, sea, swell and tide data is being constantly fed into the system. Once the vessel’s stability data is fed into the system, the Port Authority can determine the deepest safe sailing draft and optimal sailing time. The system is so reliable that there are some parts of the channel where the under-keel clearance can be as little as half a metre.

[8] Part of the United States Signals Intelligence and Analysis network ‘Echelon’, the station has four satellite tracking dishes which intercept signals from Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Pakistani regional satellites throughout the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian regions. The station is operated by staff from the United States National Security Agency and the Australian Signals Directorate. Within the compound, there is also an additional but separate US military communications facility consisting of three nineteen-metre antennae and two smaller antennae. It is widely believed that this facility is run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

[9] A Port Clearance Certificate is a certificate issued by the local Customs Authority (in Australia the authority is Australian Border Force which is run by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) and confirms that the vessel has satisfied all statutory and Port State Control Conditions and is cleared to sail.

[10] The Port Hedland anchorage is too shallow for loaded cape size vessels to drop anchor, these vessels would have to drop anchor outside port limits. Anchor positions outside port limits are also outside the twelve-nautical mile Australian Territory Zone.

[11] The Office of Transport Security is the Federal Regulator responsible for overseeing the security of aviation transport, maritime transport and the offshore oil and gas industry.

[12] The Town of Port Hedland Local Emergency Management Committee (LEMC) was established under the West Australian Emergency Management Act 2005, to prepare for and manage local community emergencies. Membership of the committee consists of the West Australian Police, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, State Emergency Service, St. John Ambulance, Town of Port Hedland, Government Agencies such as Health and Child Protection Services, Utilities Companies and local industry representatives.

[13] The Pilbara Regiment is an Army Reserve infantry regiment of the Australian Army. The Pilbara Regiment and is one of three Regional Force Surveillance Units employed in surveillance and reconnaissance of the remote areas of northern Australia

[14] Portable telescopic communications mast

[15] Aboriginal name for the sand goanna (Varanus gouldii ), a species of large Australian monitor lizard, also known as Gould’s monitor

[16] Pine Gap, approximately eighteen kilometres’ south-west of Alice Springs is also part of the Echelon Network, it is strategically located in Central Australia due to its remoteness, making it harder, if not impossible for spy ships to intercept its signals. Jointly run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the United States National Security Agency and the United States National Reconnaissance Office, the facility consists of a large computer complex with fourteen radar domes, it controls US spy satellites as they pass over one-third of the globe including China, Eastern Russia and the Middle East. It collects a wide range of signals intelligence as well as providing information on early warning of ballistic missile launches. Over 800 US and Australian citizens work at the facility.

[17] Member of the US Intelligence Community and agency of the Department of Defence. It designs, builds and operates reconnaissance satellites and provides satellite intelligence to several US government agencies. Its workforce consists of personnel form National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, US Airforce and US Navy.

[18] Number given to the Kennan KH-12 Keyhole Optical Reconnaissance Satellite flying an elliptical polar orbit at a speed of seven kilometres per second. The orbit ranges in height from 150-kilometres to 1,100 kilometres. It carries around six tonnes of hydrazine fuel which is used to maintain its elliptical orbital altitude against atmospheric drag or to change its orbit to better view specific parts of the Earth.

[19] The point at which an orbiting object is closest to Earth, while apogee is the farthest from Earth.

[20] Fictional America Class amphibious assault ship based on the USS America and USS Bougainville. Its function is to carry a US Marine expeditionary unit into battle and put them ashore via helicopters and V-22 Osprey (tilt-rotor aircraft) and supported by F-35B Lightning II AV-8B Harrier II aircraft and helicopter gunships. The forty-five-thousand-six-hundred-and-seventy-three-tonne deadweight ship is two-hundred-and-fifty-seven-metres long and has a flight deck supporting various aircraft such as the MV-22B Osprey, CH-53K Super Stallion, UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Viper, MH-60S Knighthawk, F-35B Lightning II and AV-8B Harrier II

[21] The only United States NavyMaster Jet Base on the United States East Coast, located at Virginia Beach, Virginia.

[22] Large military transport aircraft used for tactical and strategic airlift missions, transporting troops and cargo throughout the world, also used for medical evacuation and airdrop duties. Its crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster. It has a payload of 77,520 kilograms and can be set up for varying configurations to carry troops, paratroopers, ambulatory patients and medical attendants, palletised cargo, armoured vehicles or combinations of cargo and passengers.

[23] Diego Garcia is an atoll just south of the equator in the Central Indian Ocean, it is largest of sixty small islands comprising the Chagos Archipelago. It had no permanent inhabitants when it was discovered by the Spanish explorer Diego Garcia de Moguer in the sixteenth century. It was originally settled by the French in 1793 but after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, it became British Territory under the Treaty of Paris. It was a dependency of the British Colony of Mauritius until nineteen-sixty-five, when it became part of the newly created British Indian Ocean Territory. Between 1968 and 1973 the population was forcibly removed (with many being deported to Mauritius and Seychelles) to make way for a large United States Naval and Military Base. It is widely believed that a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison, housing high value detainees is located on the base. As of today, Diego Garcia is the only inhabited island of the British Indian Ocean Territory, populated by military personnel and supporting contractors.

[24] On 1 July 2015, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) was integrated with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force was established.

[25] There are four Clearance Dive Teams and eight Reserve Dive Teams attached to the Royal Australian Navy. Teams one and five are based in New South Wales and Teams Four and Seven are based in Western Australia.

[26] International Maritime Organisation convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea: 1972 (COLREG). Rule 15 states: “When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel”.

[27] In Australia, the Port State Control is AMSA.

[28] Cape Keraudren is a nature reserve and campsite about 160 kilometres north of Port Hedland.

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