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Montrose helps 650 ships through Gulf hot spots

HMS Montrose shepherds a container ship in the Gulf
16 October 2020
At least 650 merchant ships sailing through Middle East hot spots owe their safety and security to HMS Montrose.

The British frigate has completed 100 days on Operation Sentinel – an international mission providing reassurance and protection to thousands of cargo transporters, oil and gas tankers passing in and out of the Gulf region.

Sentinel – run by the eight-nation International Maritime Security Construct from Bahrain – originally focused on safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to the Gulf.

The operation’s domain has since expanded to cover other ‘choke points’/danger zones, notably the Bab-el-Mandeb narrows (aka ‘The BAM’) at the foot of the Red Sea and an invisible highway through the Gulf of Aden, the International Recognised Transit Corridor (previous known as ‘Pirate Alley’) which merchant ships are encouraged to use and receive protection/assistance from warships.

The BAM is the gateway to Suez, the Mediterranean, Europe and ultimately the North Atlantic and UK used by around 50 merchant ships every day… while one sixth of the world’s oil and a third of its liquefied natural gas pass through Hormuz.

Montrose acts as one of several ‘sentinels’ – larger warships – and smaller ‘sentries’ which, in connection with patrol aircraft and helicopters, build up a picture of life in the region, spot anything unusual and provide protection where necessary.

When we act as a sentinel we are the guard dog on the Strait of Hormuz, deterring illegal activity and hostile acts so that everyone can benefit from the trade in this region.

Lt Cdr Martyn Harris, HMS Montrose

Her Sentinel duties have been concentrated entirely in the Strait of Hormuz. It’s a demanding, relentless task, daily, nightly, requiring Montrose to be at the very top of her game.

“Being in charge of a 4,500 tonne, 133-metre-long warship, manoeuvring her at high speeds amongst dense merchant shipping is probably the greatest challenge faced out here,” said Sub Lieutenant Connor Brain, one of the Officers of the Watch on duty on Montrose’s bridge.

Lieutenant Commander Martyn Harris, Montrose’s Principal Warfare Officer, added:  “Maintaining constant vigilance and readiness to respond to any challenge 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thousands of miles from my home and family can be difficult but these crucial sea lanes have to be open to allow free flow of maritime commerce.

“If this flow stops it will impact on everyone in the UK and around the world. I feel real pride knowing that families all over the UK have gas and petrol because of the hard work we do here.

“When we act as a sentinel we are the guard dog on the Strait of Hormuz, deterring illegal activity and hostile acts so that everyone can benefit from the trade in this region.”

In her 100-plus days on Sentinel, Bahrain-based HMS Montrose has broadcast more than 1,300 radio messages assisting and guiding merchant sailors safely – as well as accompanying vessels, including British minehunters, through the choke points on occasions.

“Ensuring the free flow of international commerce is our top priority and we do this through the three tenets of our mission: vigilance, surveillance, and assurance,” explained Commodore Rob Bellfield, the Royal Navy officer who’s overseen Operation Sentinel since the end of April.

“I have served more than 30 years – much of it at sea or in supporting operations – which has helped me develop a keen insight into the merchant maritime community particularly in this region that is vital to international trade.”

Montrose has also joined the navies of the USA and Pakistan on Operation Sea Shield, in the Gulf of Oman looking for arms traffickers and drug smugglers.

And the frigate found time to conduct a range of training in between key operational tasks, such as combat-readiness drills for surface engagements and ongoing training with her Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron in Yeovilton, which is vital for providing intelligence and ‘top cover’ and supporting boarding operations.

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