HMS St Albans has played a key role in a major exercise in the Gulf testing the abilities of naval forces to defend the region’s scores of gas and oil platforms – vital to the UK and global economy.
The Portsmouth-based frigate was Britain’s input to the week-long ‘Stakenet’ exercise, alongside the US, UAE, and Saudi military among others.
Stakenet’s an annual exercise run under the banner of Combined Task Force 152 – the Bahrain-based maritime force responsible for security at sea in the entire Gulf.
The emphasis is on MIP – ‘maritime infrastructure protection’, namely ensuring the security of oil rigs and gas terminals which pepper the 97,000 square miles of the Gulf from the shores of Kuwait and Iraq to the sands of the United Arab Emirates.
For the Saint, it was the first real test since she arrived in the Gulf following an eventful 7,000-mile journey from Portsmouth which saw her Merlin pluck 13 mariners from a stricken tanker (more on that later) before the frigate took part in an anti-submarine exercise involving HMS Turbulent among others.
Lt Cdr Will King, the Saint’s operations officer said:
“Stakenet is the first opportunity we’ve had to work alongside our partners in the region and we’ve been very impressed with the task force as a whole.”
“Its ability to work together and defend these vital installations has been excellent and the success we’ve had in Stakenet indicates that as part of CTF 152, St Albans is well positioned to contribute security and stability in the Gulf.”
During operations off Iraq, we repeated time and again the importance of the KAAOT and ABOT facilities to the country’s economy – generating well over 80 per cent of the nation’s income.
After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, RN vessels conducted regular patrols of the terminals to protect them and train Iraqi sailors and marines to defend them…which they’re now doing.
Important as the Iraq platforms are, however, statistics for the wider Gulf show how vital this part of the world is to the global economy: experts reckon as much as 30 per cent of the world’s energy demands are met by the region’s resources.
As far as the UK is concerned, gas accounts for more than a third of its energy needs – with a substantial proportion of that gas being supplied by Qatar in liquefied form and transported in gigantic tankers to specialist facilities, including a huge complex at Milford Haven.
So the Telic mission which ended in the spring with the Royal Navy’s pull-out from Iraq has become a broader maritime security mission throughout the Gulf, with the Portsmouth-based Type 23 the first to slip into the new role.
St Albans’ Commanding Officer Cdr Tom Sharpe explained:
“Although only two months into our deployment a great deal has already been achieved. And now we are in the Gulf itself, our ability to ‘reach out’ in this area which, in maritime terms is actually quite small, has been significant.”
‘Influence’, ‘deter’, ‘reassure’, ‘protect’ are the words that define our mission in this critical part of the world. Putting them into practice is proving challenging and rewarding in equal measure and it is hoped that both ours and the wider Royal Navy presence here will have a lasting effect.”
The bulk of the work so far is ‘alongside assurance’ – explaining to the myriad and varied mariners in the region the work of the RN and Allied navies to tackle issues such as smuggling, terrorism, people trafficking and other nefarious activities on the high seas.
As St Albans knuckles down to her Gulf deployment, the ship whose crew she saved at the beginning of July – the tanker MV Pavit – rather eerily reappeared on the world stage.
The vessel did not founder, but instead drifted across the Arabian Sea for four weeks – undetected, despite these being among the busiest waters in the world – and ran aground on Juhu Versova beach in northern Mumbai at the end of July.
Source: royalnavy, August 12, 2011;