Mine warfare staff mark ten-year milestone in Gulf

MASTERS of mine warfare have celebrated ten years’ successful operations in the Middle East.

Few units have been busier and endured more punishing climatic conditions on a regular basis than the five-strong ‘flotilla’ under the direction of the UK Mine Counter-Measures Force, operating in the Gulf since the autumn of 2009.

The Royal Navy has maintained a permanent mine warfare force in Bahrain since 2007 when it dispatched two Sandown-class ships to the kingdom.

They were soon joined by a couple of Hunt-class minehunters and then, to sustain operations at sea in Gulf for lengthy periods, a Bay-class support ship to provide food, fuel, engineering assistance and ammunition.

And to oversee the operations of the five vessels, a team of land-based engineers and a handful of elite divers, a new mine warfare battle staff was formed, 20 men and women who spend six months at a time in the Middle East, most of it aboard the Bay-class ship – currently RFA Cardigan Bay.

The staff are subject matter experts in all aspects of mine warfare, diving and explosive ordnance disposal, as well as providing support for communications, engineering, logistics, and medical specialists, to ensure the mine hunters can remain on-task for long periods to detect and defeat enemy mines.

Although the force is based in Bahrain, the ships and all their supporting personnel and equipment can deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice.

With the Royal Navy recognised as being a, if not the, world leader in dealing with mines, it makes the UK Mine Counter-Measures Force under Commander Simon Cox “an unrivalled, potent and permanently deployed, expeditionary mine warfare force”.

 

Our commitment to this region is of great importance to the United Kingdom and the security of all seafarers to ply their trade unrestricted. I am immensely proud to lead the Mine Counter Measures Force, especially on this incredible milestone of a decade of continued operations.

Commander Simon Cox

The ten-year anniversary was marked with a group photograph of the staff and RFA/Royal Navy crews sailors from all five vessels on the jetty they use when in port in Bahrain, plus the unveiling of a permanent plaque.

The ships spend around three years at a time in the region before returning to the UK for an extensive refit; the men and women crewing them complete six-month tours of duty – with some veteran mine warfare experts deploying to Bahrain as many as a dozen times.

“The mine warfare crews out here have been out here for years, they have a real depth of experience and they know how to operate in this environment,” said staff engineering officer Lieutenant Ewan Blackburn.

He and his shipmates spent four months training in the UK before joining Cardigan Bay in May to run operations through the hottest months of the year (temperatures in excess of 50°C) through to the cooler autumn period, including participation in the huge International Maritime Exercise which ends this week.

The bulk of the time is devoted to practising with allies – especially the US Navy which also maintains a substantial minehunting presence in the Gulf.

But given recent tensions in the region, the four hunters – HMS Brocklesby, Ledbury, Blyth and Shoreham – have also supported the Royal Navy’s broader maritime security mission in the Gulf, conducting patrols to keep sea lanes open and the flow of maritime trade in the region unrestricted – crucial as 21 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz daily, to say nothing of container ships and liquid natural gas transporters.

“Our commitment to this region is of great importance to the United Kingdom and the security of all seafarers to ply their trade unrestricted,” said Commander Cox.
“I am immensely proud to lead the Mine Counter Measures Force, especially on this incredible milestone of a decade of continued operations.

“The force has been ready to react to any situation for a very long time now and Cardigan Bay is an immensely capable ship; it has been a real pleasure to work alongside another of the Navy’s fighting arms.

“I am honoured to have this unique opportunity to celebrate the RFA for all that they have done over the last ten years - the partnership will endure for many years to come.”