Survey ship HMS Echo has become the first Royal Navy ship to visit Libya since the fall of Colonel Gaddafi.
She spent five days in the country’s capital Tripoli as part of initial steps to help the Libyans forge a new navy after last year’s civil war.
As part of these efforts, senior and junior Libyan sailors joined the Plymouth-based survey ship both alongside in Tripoli harbour and at sea - where they were treated to a lesson in modern hydrographic work.
Echo is in the final stages of a 19-month deployment, the bulk of which has been devoted to gathering data and updating seafaring charts of waters east of Suez.
But the final couple of months of her marathon stint away from home has been devoted to working in the Mediterranean - Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar have all been visited in addition to Tripoli.
The groundbreaking five-day visit to the Libyan capital began with firefighting and damage control demonstrations, tours of the ship, and an extensive look at Echo’s impressive hydrographic and oceanographic survey equipment which just a short time before had discovered an underwater ‘mountain’ the size of Gibraltar in the Red Sea.
The tours culminated in a day at sea and the survey equipment was used to search the approaches to Tripoli.
Using her multibeam echo sounder the ship discovered an uncharted wreck and put her side-scan sonar in the water to fully investigate the find which was suspected to be a sunken Second World War liberty ship.
Back in Tripoli, marine engineering students from the city’s university filed aboard and were given an extensive tour of the ship’s propulsion plant and the unique ‘Azipod’ thrusters which give Echo her incredible manoeuvrability.
In addition, the Libyan Navy’s head, Commodore Hassan Ali Bushnak, visited the ship for an appreciation of the Royal Navy’s survey capability before flying to Britain to see the Senior Service’s two principal training establishments for would-be sailors - HMS Raleigh (for ratings) and Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth (for officers).
A friendly football match was also held between Echo and a Libyan Navy Select XI, who promptly trounced the visitors six goals to one.
And many of the ship’s company were given a tour of the capital courtesy of British Embassy staff, not least Martyrs’ Square, a stone’s throw from the waterfront and a huge open space synonymous with the uprising against the Gaddafi regime:
Martyrs’ Square was a pleasant place for a cup of coffee and it was fascinating to see the balcony from which Gaddafi used to address the masses,” said Commander Matt Syrett, Echo’s Commanding Officer.
Tripoli had the same ‘hustle and bustle’ of any other North African city and it was a really positive sign that the country is looking forwards not backwards.
Commander Syrett added:
We really enjoyed the privilege of representing the Royal Navy on such an important visit. The senior Libyan officers were enthusiastic about their country, their expectations for the future and their hope that the Royal Navy might assist them to regenerate Libya’s naval force.
His ship is now in the final days of her deployment and she’s due back in Devonport this month.