New team takes charge of UK’s Gulf mine force

The new team directing the Royal Navy’s key minehunting mission in the Gulf tested their mettle over seven demanding days.

Britain has maintained a four-strong minehunting force in Bahrain for more than a decade, a mission which requires the overview of a small, dedicated staff, normally based on support ship RFA Cardigan Bay.

With his sixth months in the Gulf complete, Commander Neil Griffiths formally handed over to Commander Rich Talbot and his team at the UK Naval Support Facility in Bahrain, the hub of all Royal Navy operations in the Middle East: currently seven vessels, two Wildcat helicopters and well over 600 men and women at sea, plus hundreds more running operations and supporting those ships ashore in Bahrain.

After taking the reins from his predecessor, Commander Talbot put to sea with HMS Ledbury and Brocklesby – which specialise in hunting mines in shallow waters – and Blyth, which locates underwater explosives in deeper waters using sonar which detaches from her hull.

Commander Rich Talbot

It is an enormous privilege to take command of the force. My team and I are looking to take forward the exceptional work that the force has been involved in for over a decade here in the Middle East.

The week’s training allowed the new battlestaff to acclimatise – temperatures hit 42°C at their peak, ten degrees higher than normal at this time of year – and get to know both the ships and sailors under their command.

They choreographed a wide range of activities including minehunting and clearance operations, diving and gunnery.

“A number of exercise mines were located and recovered – a clear demonstration of the ability of the high-quality men and women that serve in the ships of the UK’s Mine Countermeasures Force,” Commander Talbot said at the exercise’s end. “And the exercise allowed my team to seamlessly integrate into theatre.

“It is an enormous privilege to take command of the force. My team and I are looking to take forward the exceptional work that the force has been involved in for over a decade here in the Middle East.”

The force is about to undergo its biggest change in years with both HMS Blyth and Ledbury due to trade places with their sister ships HMS Penzance and Chiddingfold, and the crewing of the vessels in the theatre switching from six-month tours of duty to four.

Its mission is to work with allied and regional navies to eliminate any potential mine threats which might disrupt the safe, free passage of merchant shipping and generally support security on the high seas.