Minehunters maintain Gulf mission amid worldwide lockdown

Despite the near-total global lockdown, Royal Navy minehunters continue to patrol the Gulf to keep trade flowing.

Alongside frigates HMS Montrose – based long term in Bahrain under the Navy’s growing Forward Presence programme – and HMS Argyll which is patrolling the Gulf and Indian Ocean for the next six months, the UK’s four minehunters are maintaining business as usual, upholding the Royal Navy presence in the region and ensuring merchant shipping flows freely.

For more than a decade, Britain has operated a four-strong force of mine warfare ships – currently HMS Blyth, Shoreham, Ledbury and Brocklesby – plus a ‘mother ship’ (RFA Cardigan Bay) which acts as home to a command staff and provides fuel, food, fresh water and at-sea engineering support to prolong the hunters’ missions when at sea.

Collectively, their job is to ensure no one interferes with the safe passage of cargo ships and oil/gas tankers by laying mines.

More broadly, the ships train with other Gulf region navies and coalition warships (especially American and French) to provide general maritime security.

Routine operations in the region continue despite the global challenge presented by Coronavirus. Maintaining readiness is far from easy and it includes a wide range of factors to ensure the ship is able to succeed on operations. The crew must train to ensure skills remain current. Stores and equipment must be replenished and maintained. Personnel must keep physically and mentally fit to remain flexible and ready for tasking.

Lieutenant Conor Smith, HMS Blyth’s Navigating Officer

“Routine operations in the region continue despite the global challenge presented by Coronavirus,” explained Lieutenant Conor Smith, HMS Blyth’s Navigating Officer.

“Maintaining readiness is far from easy and it includes a wide range of factors to ensure the ship is able to succeed on operations. The crew must train to ensure skills remain current. Stores and equipment must be replenished and maintained. Personnel must keep physically and mentally fit to remain flexible and ready for tasking.

“A busy programme of minehunting, diving, weapon training, damage-control training and system testing and trials ensures the ship and her crew are in the best possible position to respond to tasking as the deployment continues.”

Blyth and her Sandown-class sister ship HMS Shoreham – both specialists in locating mines in deep waters – headed 300 miles up the Gulf for some combined training with the Kuwait Naval Force.

A series of tactical manoeuvres with missile attack craft KNS Istiqlal provided the British warships with an excellent opportunity for training while building stronger relationships with a regional partner.

All three ships gained a considerable amount of value from the combined training and both navies left feeling confident in their ability to operate quickly and efficiently with each other, should the need arise.

Minehunter crews spend around six months at a time operating their vessels in the Middle East, before returning to the UK to take charge of identical ships in home waters.

“The first half of our deployment has been busy, but the team has risen to the challenge and has consistently delivered,” said the ship’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Peter Ellison.

“I am immensely proud of what they have achieved so far and truly grateful for the unfailing support which we all receive from our friends and families back home, particularly at this difficult time.

“We will continue to maintain peak readiness throughout the rest of their deployment. The crew’s thoughts are with their friends and families at home and with the key workers back in the UK who are looking out for them.”