UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary, RFA Lyme Bay is heading for home having completed a 32 day tour of duty with Operation Atalanta – the European Union’s counter piracy operation off the coast of Somalia.
RFA Lyme Bay departed the UK in mid August to form part of the Cougar 2013 Response Force Task Group (RFTG). The RFTG has the capability to conduct a range of operations, from maritime security and deterring adversaries, to international engagement and supporting regional stability. After two months, the ship successfully ‘re-rolled‘ her capability from RFTG amphibious landing operations to conduct counter piracy patrols and regional maritime capacity building with the EU Naval Force. This is the first time that a Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) has conducted this type of tasking.
Prior to commencing her counter piracy operations, RFA Lyme Bay was augmented with boarding teams from the Fleet Contingency Troop and Royal Marines from 42 Commando. The ship also embarked a Lynx Mark 8 helicopter and a Marine Sniper Team. 539 ASRM provided waterborne transport capability with 2 rigid inflatable boats and 3 offshore raiding craft.
After a short period of integration training, RFA Lyme Bay commenced EU counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden on 16 October. During her 4 week patrol, Lyme Bay’s boarding teams conducted 11 friendly approaches with local seafarers and performed numerous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions as tasked by the Force Commander embarked in the EU Naval Force flagship, HNLMS Johan de Witt. In addition to counter piracy operations, RFA Lyme Bay also conducted regional maritime capacity building to help strengthen regional security.
The ship also participated in the US Navy led exercise “Cutlass Express” off the Djiboutian coast. RFA Lyme Bay acted as a target vessel and was able to provide valuable expertise in boarding techniques and procedures to the Cutlass Express participants.
Prior to RFA Lyme Bay departing Djibouti for home, EU Naval Force Chief of Staff in the Operational Headquarters in Northwood, Captain Peter Olive Royal Navy, paid a short visit to present Operation Atalanta medals to some of the crew. Captain Olive was accompanied by two representatives from the maritime industry, Giles Noakes and John Stawpert, whose shipping organisations, BIMCO and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) account for over 80% of the world’s shipping trade. The two industry representatives both passed on their appreciation and thanks to Lyme Bay and the EU Naval Force for the efforts in suppressing piracy at sea and assisting the other EU missions in helping to deal with the root causes of piracy.
To ensure it was not all work and no play for the crew, during their time away from the UK, the Ship’s Company and Embarked Forces took the opportunity to celebrate the Royal Marine Corps 349th Birthday, with a traditional ‘hands to bathe’ activity, which involved utilising the ship’s dock as a temporary swimming pool. The crew also held a tug-of-war competition between the different embarked units, which was won by the team from 6 Ops Royal Marines. A service of remembrance was also conducted at sea and attended by members of the Ship’s Company and Somaliland Coastguard students.
Speaking about the ship’s time with Operation Atalanta, the Commanding Officer of RFA Lyme Bay, Captain Simon Herbert RFA stated:
” This has been a short, albeit productive time with EU Naval Force, where we played a vital role in the deterrence of piracy and in supporting the EU’s wider comprehensive approach to maritime capacity building. We have played a key part in helping to stabilise the region and the establishment of rule of law, both of which are central to the UK’s national security interests. I am proud of the achievements of my ship’s company in providing the Force Commander at sea with a reliable, capable, well-trained and versatile platform”.
EU Naval Force deters, prevents and represses acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia and protects World Food Programme vessels delivering aid to Somalia. The EU ships also contribute to the monitoring of fishing activity off the Somali Coast.
Press Release, November 22, 2013; Image: EU NAVFOR