HMS Dragon helped shepherd a gigantic gas tanker through one of the world’s most important ‘choke points’ during an exercise to hone protecting sea trade. The Type 45 destroyer joined forces with other Royal Navy and US Navy vessels, escorting the 130,000-tonne tanker through the narrows between the Gulf and Arabian Sea, source of much of Britain’s natural gas supply.
The Portsmouth-based warship linked up with a cluster of British and American vessels as part of an exercise in the Gulf to hone maritime security skills – especially in confined waters.
At its narrowest, the strait – separating the Gulf and the Arabian Sea – are just 21 miles wide – with around a third of the world’s seaborne oil passing through them (that’s around ten tankers carrying upwards of 17 million barrels of oil daily).
And in recent years the Gulf’s vast gas resources have also been tapped to meet the global energy needs – including the UK’s.
Qatar is home to the third largest reserves of natural gas in the world – its vast gas fields contain one seventh of the globe’s known resources.
The UK consumes over 90 billion cubic metres of natural gas every year – roughly half of it coming by sea, and a quarter of it through the specially-built terminal in Milford Haven in south-west Wales.
Among the regular visitors to the facility, the huge tanker which took part in the convoy; it can carry up to 210,000 cubic metres of liquefied natural gas (enough to fill over 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
It fell to Type 45 HMS Dragon and the USS William P Lawrence, an Arleigh Burke destroyer, to rendezvous with the gas carrier in the Arabian Sea and escort through Hormuz – an exercise which tested the military and Merchant Navy’s ability to practise the fine art of co-ordination and control, particularly as much of the passage occurred at night.
To assist the transit on the military side, Dragon hosted US liaison officer Lt Josh Sando and sent one of its team to the Lawrence in return with the aim of making sure that radio, signal and email traffic, even secure internet-style ‘chatrooms’ allowed sailors on both destroyers to share information quickly and, crucially, in an understandable format.
Lt Sando, who hails from North Dakota, was impressed by his five days aboard Dragon, not least as her crew made him feel ‘really welcome’ said,
“There’s an air of calmness and professionalism onboard that shows a real quality of life balance – that’s something that is really difficult to achieve, and it is really noticeable.
“The whole ship was performing at a very high level – but in a way that can be sustained over a long period.”
He was also impressed by the output of Dragon’s galley.
Once into the wider waters of the Gulf, Dragon, the Lawrence and the tanker linked up with other Coalition forces including minehunters HMS Quorn and USS Gladiator, and the fast patrol boat USS Firebolt.
The latter, a fast patrol boat capable of speeds up to 35kts, provides both force protection and helps safeguard some of the Gulf’s infrastructure such as the many oil and gas platforms. It’s a mission her 28 crew relish.
“It’s a lot of fun to drive – a bit like riding a motorcycle,” said her executive officer Lt Matthew Hipple.
“You have to protect the sea lanes and infrastructure. The important thing is to act with determination – then people stay away from you.”
Overseeing Firebolt as well as Dragon and the Lawrence during the passage was Capt Stephen Evans, acting commander of Combined Task Force 152 which is charged with ensuring the waters of the Gulf are safe and secure.
He visited the Type 45 as the convoy exercise concluded and praised Dragon’s efforts to date – she’s about two and a half months into a seven-month deployment east of Suez.
“I’ve been very impressed with the way in which the ship has conducted herself in all aspects throughout her time in the region.”
Press Release, June 10, 2013; Image: Royal Navy