DETERRING pirates and keeping waters in the Gulf of Aden safe were all in a day’s work for HMAS Albatross Lieutenant Daniel Iwata.
Lt Iwata, of 723 Squadron, was part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, a combined maritime forces (CMF) multi-national coalition against counter narcotics, counter terrorism and counter piracy in the Arabian Gulf.
He was part of a history making event, with the operation the first to come under Japanese command in 70 years, since the end of World War II.
Lt Iwata’s performances as an air operations officer led to him receiving a commendation from Rear Admiral Hiroshi Ito and be one of two foreign recipients of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Defence Co-Operation Medal.
“We specifically targeted piracy,” he said.
“A lot of shipping goes through the Gulf. A lot of world’s trade, not only maritime but global trade full stop.
“Our role was preventing and mitigating piracy, which is essential to the global economy.”
Based at Bahrain, he said it was special to be part of such an historic occasion.
“It was the first time in 70 years the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force was able to take command,” he said.
“It was very big for them and it was great to personally be part of.”
Lt Iwata was hand picked for the role.
Last year he took part in the operation under Korean control and with his background of being able to speak both Korean and Japanese (his mother is South Korean and his father Japanese) he was asked to take part in the operation.
“We were based at CFM headquarters in Bahrain which is also a logistic stop for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet,” he said.
“We were tasked with coordinating and managing any incidents in the Gulf of Aden and the region.
“My role was to manage the air assets available to us to best respond to incidents, with helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles from ships and PC3s.
“Even though our mission was counter piracy, other things regularly occurred, like safety of life at sea with ships over turning and we helped coordinate assets to those incidents.”
While piracy doesn’t gain the headlines as much as the drug seizures RAN ships are regularly making, he said it was still a vital role.
“It’s probably not seen as sexy as the big drugs busts and piracy is probably not as big of a business empire as it was back in 2002,” he said.
“Back then, there was literally people in business behind desks coordinating pirates.
“Through CMF, alongside NATO and UN forces, a naval presence has provide a deterrent and effectively quashed attempts.”
He said the tour and the award were a career highlight.
“It was certainly great to be recognised but being able to work with so many different nations and being under Japan command as part of history was breathtaking,” he said.
It is believed Lt Iwata is the first Australian to be presented with the award.
“A Chief of Staff got one as well, but prior to that the only other person to be honoured like this was either a one star or two star US general,” he said.
“So it’s definitely pretty special and a great honour.
“It means a lot, but it really is a team effort. Everyone has to do their jobs for us to be able to achieve our aims.
“As individuals we need to aspire to do the best we can at all times, so as a group we can get the best possible outcomes.”
Lt Iwata’s story is an interesting one.
Along with his parents and younger brother, he moved to Australia when he was five.
“My brother suffered really bad asthma and the specialists told my parents he needed to move to somewhere with clean air to help him,” he said.
They settled in Sydney, where his father worked with a friend who was in business.
He later attended university and became a veterinary surgeon.
At the age of 28, having worked in private practice and spending five years working between the University of Melbourne and University of Queensland, he was progressing towards academic surgical registrar at Queensland Uni, but was looking for a change.
He initially joined the army to become a pilot but later transferred to the navy where he has been for four years, now acting as a co-pilot, tactical coordinator.
He is currently flying Bell 429s at the 723 training squadron, consolidating his flying time before moving moving to the new Seahawk Romeos at 725 Squadron.