Royal Navy’s forces muster for impressive send-off for Gulf commander

All six ships – one frigate, four minehunters and a support vessel – and hundreds of personnel from all three Services who support and operate them mustered for the first time since the Royal Navy’s new base in Bahrain opened.

The bulk of the personnel assigned to the UK Maritime Component Command – the Royal Navy’s senior command in the Middle East – lined up on the jetty at the Naval Support Facility to mark the departure of Commodore Dean Bassett.

Some 403 men and women fell in on the jetty and berthed ships to bid farewell to Commodore Bassett’ (he’s standing to the right of the peribuoy in the foreground) after two years in charge of the UK Maritime Component Command, the RN’s operational headquarters east of Suez.

Some of his staff are lined up behind him (plus the various commanding officers of the warships), but the bulk are to his right (the left of the photograph): 57 men and women who work in the UKMCC HQ building (which is about half a mile away from the NSF) as well as the NSF itself and the US base (over a bridge) where they serve at international naval headquarters directing the Combined Maritime Forces and Operation Sentinel.

And to the commodore’s left (the right of the photograph) 51 personnel from RFA Cardigan Bay (berthed at the ‘finger jetty in the background), mother ship to the four minehunters (due to be replaced later this year by her sister Lyme Bay), and 89 members of HMS Montrose’s Port Crew (which is about half the frigate’s complement – the rest are aboard the Type 23, berthed on the right of the image).

The professionalism, sense of duty, commitment and humour has been quite extraordinary, particularly during the past 12 months when the global pandemic has made life much more demanding

Commodore Dean Bassett

The minehunters are represented by: Her Majesty’s Ships Chiddingfold and her sister Brocklesby (berthed outboard) with 36 and 32 crew appearing in the photograph and Shoreham and, outboard, Penzance (33 and 32 sailors on parade).

They rely on the Mine Countermeasures Battle Staff (18 personnel lined up in front of Chiddingfold’s stern) and all the vessels need maintenance support and assistance. Step forward 23 engineers of the Forward Support Unit (in front of Shoreham’s bow).

Although principally a Royal Navy hub, the base is also home to a detachment of soldiers for force protection (nine are lined up here, the rest are on duty guarding the facility), and eight RAF personnel who live on the base but operate the small, but crucial, air hub for moving personnel in and out of Bahrain as well as crucial supplies for the fleet.

(And the two ships top left? They’re US Avenger-class minehunters with whom RN vessels train frequently.)

With personnel on duty both in the ships, on the base, and in the UK/US headquarters the actual number of personnel – military and civilian – supporting the RN’s peacekeeping and security operation in the region is well over 403, closer to 600.

Commanding them for the past two years, said Cdre Bassett, had been “an honour”: “the professionalism, sense of duty, commitment and humour has been quite extraordinary, particularly during the past 12 months when the global pandemic has made life much more demanding.”

During his time in charge, Montrose has made her mark as the RN’s permanent major presence east of Suez – both safeguarding shipping and, with other British and allied warships, keeping millions of pounds of illegal narcotics off the streets of the UK and Europe thanks to a series of major busts.

Cdre Bassett has handed over the reins to Commodore Ed Ahlgren. The role also involves serving as deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, the coalition of more than 30 nations and navies committed to the safe passage of shipping from Suez to the shores of Pakistan and as far south as the Seychelles.

Cdre Ahlgren takes over having previously commanded one of the coalition’s major task groups, CTF 150, which is focused on maritime security across more than two million square miles of ocean and has been operating since the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US in 2001.