HMS Duncan in Odessa on international exercise

Topic: Operational activitySecurity at Sea

HMS Duncan has returned to the Black Sea ready to lead the UK involvement in the region’s biggest war game.

The Portsmouth-based destroyer is in the Ukraine’s principal port of Odessa as the annual Sea Breeze exercise – demonstrating NATO’s support for its allies in the region.

Some 3,000 troops and military personnel from 18 nations, 32 ships and two dozen aircraft are committed to Sea Breeze 19, which is run jointly by the US and Ukrainian armed forces.

They hosted a series of briefings and opening days to kick-off the exercise, coinciding with Ukraine’s Navy Day.

That brought the crowds and the country’s recently-elected President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to Odessa; he was invited aboard Duncan with the UK’s Ambassador to Kiev, Juliette Gough, for a tour of the Type 45 destroyer.

Hospitality aboard was matched by hospitality ashore, where a football tournament was laid on for the participating nations so sailors could get to know one another before heading out to sea on the ‘crunchy’ part of the exercise.

“There’s been some good camaraderie,” said Duncan’s aircraft controller Brendan Hutchinson, an avid Newcastle United fan. “It’s been good socialising with people you would not normally meet from different nations."

HMS Duncan was famously ‘buzzed’ repeatedly by Russian jets during her previous foray into the Black Sea – as featured on the popular Channel 5 documentary series Warship: A Life at Sea.

She returns to the same waters with a NATO task force, Standing Maritime Group 2, responsible for the safety and security of nations from the Strait of Gibraltar to the shores of Georgia.

Commodore Mike Utley – in command of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group – was in charge of that NATO group on Duncan’s previous deployment and returned to visit the ship in Odessa to underline the importance of Sea Breeze alongside the UK’s ongoing military mission in the Ukraine, Operation Orbital.

“With a multitude of nations combining a wealth of maritime assets, Exercise Sea Breeze 2019 demonstrates the strength of solidarity between Ukraine and its international partners.

“From crucial training exercises to long-term political reform – the UK is committed to standing by Ukraine, whilst Russia maintains its illegal annexation of Crimea."

Since 2015 UK has helped train more than 13,000 Ukrainian military personnel.

Earlier this year the operation expanded to include Ukraine’s Navy, including seamanship, navigation and sea survival/firefighting/damage control training.

Eighty miles from Odessa a small Royal Navy team is showing Ukrainian cadets how to use the new facilities at 198 Naval Training Centre in Mykolaiv, where a hi-tech bridge simulator and the Damage Repair Instructional Unit (or DRIU), which replicates the flooding compartment of a ship, shifting around on hydraulics to mirror being at sea.

Sailors are expected to stop the flooding from worsening using traditional methods – smashing blocks of wood into holes and shoring up bulkheads – proven methods which have saved endangered Royal Navy warships.

Overseeing the training Commander Des Donworth said the Ukrainian Navy had lost most of their ships and equipment during the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, as well as their most experienced sailors.

"We’re filling that gap,” he said. “We want to bring their standards back up to where they were before.”

Exercise Sea Breeze 2019 demonstrates the strength of solidarity between Ukraine and its international partners.

Commodore Mike Utley