HMS Monmouth led Britain’s input to a five-day exercise in the Middle East demonstrating how the region’s naval forces can safeguard merchant shipping. The Devonport-based frigate was charged with protecting two supertankers from mock terrorist attack during Exercise Lucky Mariner 13, working alongside US warships and air power.
A ROYAL Marines commando slithers down a rope from the Black Knight – callsign for HMS Monmouth’s – on to supertanker Arcturus Voyager as the Royal and US Navies demonstrate how they can keep the sea lanes open in the Middle East.
Over five days, the Devonport-based frigate joined forces with the USS Winston S Churchill and American air power for Lucky Mariner – an annual exercise involving the military and merchant shipping to show how the two can work together to ensure safe passage on the high seas.
The east of Suez theatre includes two of the world’s great ‘choke points’ – narrow stretches of water which, if blocked, have global ramifications.
Each day 17 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz, while 3-4 million barrels are moved through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, gateway to the Red Sea.
In a typical week, more than 500 ships pass through Hormuz – three in every five of them energy carriers (including liquefied natural gas which is used in the UK).
To five days of Lucky Mariner 13 was designed to test staffs at a mock crisis centre in Bahrain as well as merchant mariners and the military response should shipping come under terrorist attack.
In the case of the Black Duke, she was given the task of providing close-in protection to two behemoth tankers – including the Bahamian-registered Arcturus Voyager is 333m (1,092ft) long, displaces 160,000 tonnes, and lumbers along at a little over 5kts (6mph) – alongside several US Navy and coast guard patrol ships, a USNS supply vessel and the air defence destroyer USS Winston S Churchill (which always has a Royal Navy navigator aboard).
Several aircraft also took part, including a US Seahawk helicopter, P3 Orion eye-in-the-sky patrol aircraft, a pair of F18 Super Hornets and Monmouth’s own Lynx.
The latter was used to deliver the Black Duke’s Royal Marines boarding team by rapid roping on to the Arcturus Voyager, while Monmouth’s sea boats delivered the rest of the boarders – demonstrating how the Royal Navy responds should pirates or terrorists try to take over a merchant vessel… exactly as commandos from RFA Fort Victoria did on the Italian MV Montecristo in the autumn of 2011, thereby freeing the crew.
“It was great to be able to demonstrate to the tanker captains how we would be able to deal with threats and offer them a level of protection,” explained Lt Chris Hollingworth, one of Monmouth’s principal warfare officers.
“We were able to neutralise potential threats by both directing support aircraft and using our 4.5in Mk8 gun.”
Monmouth’s Commanding Officer Cdr Gordon Ruddock was delighted with the outcome of the exercise.
“It will give confidence to the merchant marine community that we are ready, willing and able to protect them should they need us,” he said.
“With fully-laden cargos of over 150,000 tonnes, it is important that merchant ships such as these are able to transport their cargo around the world without fear of piracy or other attack.”
His ship has recently arrived in the region, having taken over from HMS Diamond. Monmouth will be away from home until the spring.
Naval Today Staff, December 19, 2012; Image: Royal Navy