Safeguard of the UK’s waters and coastline for the next two months is frigate HMS Portland which has completed extensive training to begin her first operational duties after a £27m revamp. While much of the Navy goes on summer leave through August, Portland will be at 24 hours’ notice to respond to immediate events as the Fleet Ready Escort.
While the core of the UK-based Royal Navy goes on summer leave for the next three or so weeks from August, Devonport-based Portland is at 24 hours’ notice to sail – her first operational duty after a 12-month refit and then seven months of intensive training off the South Coast.
That training reached its climax over the past six weeks as the Type 23 frigate underwent Basic Operational Sea Training – likened by some in the Royal Navy to ‘pre-season training’.
It ensures a ship and her company – 180 strong in Portland’s case – are ready for anything duties on the front line might throw at them: from all-out war to disaster relief.
So Portland has been put through her paces in the fictitious Brownian waters off the coast of Plymouth. The ship’s company has worked hard to hone their war fighting capability in addition to developing their fire fighting skills.
Among the more challenging tests HMS Portland came through, the ability to oversee a Non-Combatant Evacuation, known in the military a NEO – plucking civilians from danger in a war zone.
The scenario is based on the mission successfully completed by Royal Navy warships back in 2006 where 4,000 people were evacuated to safety from Lebanon.
While numbers are significantly fewer in the scenario played out during BOST, the realism and planning required to undertake such an exercise is certainly comparable.
An evacuation demands the efforts from every member of the crew:
- Portland has to be able to protect itself from shore-side attack;
- her medical organisation must be prepared to deal with casualties, or at the very least exhausted and anxious people;
- the galley will have perhaps as many as 200 extra mouths to feed; there’s a lot of administration to perform to process the civilians; many sailors will willingly give up their bunks – as happened during the evacuations from Libya two years ago;
- and the ship’s company will also need to eat, rest and be replenished.
“Our medical teams were really tested during the NEO,” said Leading Medical Assistant Katie O’Sullivan.
“We treated 19 people with a broad range of ailments ranging from gun-shot wounds to sickness and vomiting.
“The scenario was very real and we have learnt a huge amount as a ship’s company as to what we would do if we were tasked to conduct such an operation.”
With the BOST box firmly ticked, Portland has now assumed duties as the Royal Navy’s Fleet Ready Escort, whose mission covers anything from counter-drugs work, embargo enforcement, disaster relief, search and rescue – basically anything which the Navy’s commanders determines needs a naval presence in and around the UK to protect the nation’s interests. It’s a duty which rotates around the Fleet regularly.
“HMS Portland is well placed to undertake the duties as Fleet Ready Escort. Having successfully completed BOST, my team has proven that they are highly trained and ready to undertake any task that might be asked of them,” said Portland’s Commanding Officer Cdr Sarah West.
“This is a significant milestone in HMS Portland’s regeneration from refit and I am immensely proud of the commitment and effort that my ship’s company has demonstrated over the past six months.”
Portland is the second youngest frigate in the Royal Navy’s Fleet. She completed a refit in Rosyth last December after a £27m upgrade to her air defence, submarine-hunting and weapons systems and sensors and a revamp of the crew’s living quarters.
When she hands over her Fleet Ready Escort duties in October Portland is due to take part in the second of the twice-yearly international Joint Warrior exercises, held off the Scottish coast.
Press Release, August 5, 2013; Image: Royal Navy