Dhabi meeting as British and UAE minehunters train in Gulf

A seafox robot submersible disappears into the waters of the Gulf as two Royal Navy minehunters demonstrate their prowess at hunting ‘what lies below’ with allies in the region.

HMS Middleton and Bangor left their base in Bahrain for the 300-mile hop to Mina Zayed – Abu Dhabi’s main port – to practise alongside comrades from the United Arab Emirates.

Both navies will be taking part in the world’s biggest test of mine warfare forces, International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, later this year, when warships, divers, underwater vehicles and anti-mine helicopters converge on the region to see how they can collectively respond to the threat of underwater explosive devices.

The UK stations four minehunters in Bahrain 24/7: two suited to finding mines in shallow waters (Middleton and her sister Chiddingfold), and two designed for deeper seas (Bangor and Penzance).

We achieved good hunting training and made some good friends who also share our unique world of small ships and mine warfare.

Lieutenant Rupert Forde

The UAE operate a couple of German-built minehunters; one, the Al Hasbah, hosted the British sailors in port, while the other, Al Murjan, joined the two RN ships for a short combined exercise, with sailors from both sides trading places with their opposite numbers for unique insights into how the other works.

“Working with the UAE sailors was very rewarding,” said Lieutenant Rupert Forde. “We achieved good hunting training and made some good friends who also share our unique world of small ships and mine warfare.”

The three ships carried out various manoeuvres in formation before drill mines were laid and the hunt was on.

Having located a suspected mine with their sonar systems, the British ships launch the small Seafox system to close in on the target; it feeds live TV footage to the operations room, allowing the ‘muppets’ (the friendly nickname for mine warfare experts) to identify and decide how to dispose of the device if it turns out to be a bomb, torpedo or mine.

They can either send the ship’s mine clearance divers down – or use an explosive charge on Seafox to neutralise the device.

“Diving is always for real so the job varies with the sea state and tide,” said diver Able Seaman Bradley Chapman. “Visibility also affects our work so you have to be really switched on all the time.”

Lieutenant Commander Tom Weaver, Bangor’s Commanding Officer, said both he and his counterpart in charge of Middleton, Lt Cdr ‘Milly’ Ingham, had “thoroughly enjoyed working side-by-side with Al Murjan and Al Hasbah.

“We look forward to training with them again during the international mine exercise – and in the meantime if we see them out on patrol, they might find us manoeuvring close enough for a cheery wave.”