A new era in Ploce harbour

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Lt. Antonio Ruiz González
First published in
SFOR Informer#144, August 1, 2002

On July 20, the Italian cargo ship 'Maior' registered in Bari (Italy) arrived in Ploce harbour, Croatia. A new era in running the harbour's activities has started for SFOR. From now on, every country will carry out the loading and unloading operations of their own materials by themselves.

Ploce - During the last seven years a multinational unit made up of French, German, Italian and Spanish troops from Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) co-ordinated all transit operations. The unit called Multinational Headquarters (MN HQ) based in Ploce, and now disbanded, monitored convoys, trains, and above all, 293 ships. Since December 1995, some 62 trains and more than 24,000 vehicles have been driven through the harbour.
GETRA Platoon
The Maior is the first ship that has arrived in Ploce as an entirely national matter. The unit in charge of that task was GETRA Platoon. GETRA is the Italian acronym for Transit Operations, and it is a platoon co-ordinated by the Italian Battle Group (IBG). GETRA Platoon Leader 1st Lt. Attilio Tarallo: "The structure of the unit is one team at the Sarajevo Airport, and another one in Ploce harbour. Until now, we were involved in multi-national work here in Ploce, providing to MND-SE's Headquarters a team of APS-type lorries, these are the Italian type of lorry that can carry containers by itself," he said.
Tarallo added: "We are 40 people strong at the harbour. Among us, the strongest team is made up of drivers. They can drive every kind of vehicle that comes on board; any type, tracked or wheeled, of the IBG. Other teams work inside the ship, they unlatch or latch every piece of equipment on the ship. We will follow all the procedures that local authorities point us, as well as each SFOR standard operating procedure (SOP) within the harbour area," specified Tarallo.
At the quay
The Maior looked up the quay at the harbour full of ships driven by the pilots of Ploce. The ship with its yellow hull, sailed under blue skies, surrounded by green hills bordering the harbour, a colourful landscape on a sunny morning. The vessel is a civilian one that the Italian Government rented in substitution of others from the Italian Navy that is currently involved in other operations in Kosovo or Afghanistan.
The ship brought the equipment that will allow the 7th Alpine Regiment to accomplish its task. The 7th Alpine Regiment has replaced the 14th Alpine Regiment as the base of the IBG, settled mostly in Sarajevo and Rogatica.
As soon as the ship was secured with ropes, the stern door opened and the first soldier that went on board was Tarallo, accompanied by local police and customs agents. After the official party checked the paperwork of the freight, the activity of the men began. They moved up to the ship deck and down to the bay, quickly and accurately. Giving the appearance of an orchestra's director, WO1 Maurizio Ariano stood up facing the ship: "My task here is to control the unloading and loading of any vehicle or container. I'll remain at this point to co-ordinate every movement through other non-commissioned officers," he said.
Master Sgt. Franco Piccirillo was in charge of the ship's bay: "I'm responsible with my team of unlatching or latching all vehicles in the bay. The heaviest and largest vehicles travel in the bay such as the recovery tank 'Leopard' (54 tons), or the Light Armoured Vehicle 'Centauro' (25 tons). It is a hard job because of the heat and smoke coming from the vehicles," he explained.
On the deck some 20 light vehicles and all the containers could be seen. That was the area of responsibility for Sgt. 1st Class Enzo Meli. "We deal here with not as many vehicles as on the bay. However, the movement of every container requires an exercise of co-ordination between us and the driver of the lorry who has to carry the container," Meli explained.
While a number of vehicles were coming out of the bay, others were coming up into the deck: someone had to be in charge of these movements. Sgt. 1st Class Luca Ricardi dealt with the matter. "I guide each one of the APS lorries (containers carriers) from the area outside the ship to the place where the containers are waiting to be transported on the deck. Another NCO (Meli) and his team carry out that operation," Ricardi said.
Vice versa
More than 760 tons were unloaded from the Maior, and almost the same amount was loaded. The process of getting so many vehicles and containers out of the ship was fast. Vice versa, it was a slower operation. All lorries carrying containers were driven in reverse up to the deck ramp. Thanks to the experienced drivers of the GETRA platoon it was not a very complicated process. Besides, all kind of vehicles to be loaded were brought forward to the dockside after passing across the decontamination area. Every vehicle was fitting in the ship to include tanks, armoured personnel carriers and lorries, the assembly of these vehicles gave the appearance of a jigsaw puzzle.
On board
According to the personnel who arrived on the ship the ships course was calm. "We spent 12 hours travelling from Monfalcone, northern Italy, to Ortona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and another 11 hours to reach Ploce. I like to travel by ship because it is something different. Furthermore, the food is very good," said Cpl. Alfonso Gismondi, a troop who has spent three tours in Bosnia and Herzegovina, always arriving by ship.
For other soldiers, such as Lance Cpl. Enrico Fazzi, the trip was longer. He is part of the Cavalry Squadron of the IBG, cavalry troop of the 8th Lancers of Montebello Regiment. "It is my first tour here, and as a crew of a Centauro I travelled with my armoured vehicle first by train from Rome to Ortona harbour, and then on this ship. It was a great experience," he said.
Back home
At last the equipment of the 14th Alpine Regiment has gone back home. The ship arrived at 8:30 a.m. and departed at 8:30 p.m. that evening. Twelve hours of hard work for the men of the GETRA platoon. More than 180 vehicles and nearly 70 containers moved out of, or into, the ship within the allotted time. Nothing significant to report. Good job, chaps.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Italy
SFOR at Work

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Photos: PO Susan Rose

One of the LAV (Light Armoured Vehicle) Centauro disembarks out of the Maior.


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Sgt. Luca Ricardi guides an APS-type lorry up the deck ramp.


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One of the Bv 206S, Mountain troops tracked APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) of the 14th Alpine Regiment reaches the stern door of the ship.


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Sgt. Luca Ricardi guides the vehicle using his arms signals.


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The lorry is driven carefully up to the deck's ramp.


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Cpl. Massimo Montagnino secures a container on the lorry's platform.


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At the top of the vessel's mast, the flags from Italy, country of origin of the Maior, and Croatia, as a courtesy for being at a Croatian harbour, and a red flag, indicating the vessel is refuelling.


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Cpl. Alessandro Intravala latches down a trailer inside the ship.