The incident took place last week when the Maltese-flagged, Greek-owned MV (Motor Vessel) Caravos Horizon, a 60,000-tonne bulk carrier, was on a passage south through the Red Sea and was boarded by six armed men. The 24 Filipino crew members took shelter in the ship’s citadel - a secure room within the ship.
HMS Monmouth, a Type 23 frigate known as the Black Duke, was patrolling 90 miles (145km) to the south when alerted to the situation. The warship immediately diverted, accelerating to top speed to intercept the vessel in distress.
She launched her Lynx helicopter from 60 miles (95km) away to assess the situation, assisted by the helicopter from a nearby United States Navy warship, the USS Bataan. There appeared to be no sign of the attackers; only a ladder over the side of the MV Caravos Horizon was spotted.
Lieutenant Chris Easterbrook Royal Navy, pilot of Monmouth’s helicopter, Black Knight, said:
We urgently launched to assess the threat to the merchant vessel and to provide real-time information to Monmouth. We stood off at a distance, relaying the current situation and taking photographs and video footage to aid the Commanding Officer’s decision-making process.
We had to make sure that we understood the situation onboard fully in order to determine what level of threat the boarding team may face once embarked.
At the same time, communications were established with the Master of the MV Caravos Horizon, safe inside his citadel with his crew. He provided information on what had happened to his ship, but was unaware of the current situation onboard and had not heard any activity outside the citadel.
A team of Royal Marines Commandos, backed up by a Royal Navy boarding team, then embarked on the MV Caravos Horizon by helicopter and boats. They systematically worked their way through the vessel ensuring it was clear of intruders.
Lieutenant Harry Lane RM, the Officer Commanding the Royal Marines, said:
I was immensely proud of the way my team conducted themselves. This was a time-critical operation; it was late in the day and we had very little daylight left.
At the very minimum we needed to get on board and into the superstructure of the merchant vessel before last light. We were able to achieve this with some very quick planning and the use of the RN boarding team to bolster our numbers.
As soon as it became clear that the attackers had fled, the boarding team freed the crew from their refuge and handed control of the vessel back to the Master.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Monmouth, Commander Dean Bassett, said:
My entire ship’s company responded with alacrity to the plight of fellow mariners and was determined to play its part in ensuring that HMS Monmouth was fully prepared to come to the aid of MV Caravos Horizon.
Although in this instance the assailants had fled whilst we approached, our robust response will act as a deterrent to others from committing such crimes and provide reassurance to the maritime community that we are here to safeguard the high seas.
The MV Caravos Horizon continued her voyage and Monmouth returned to her operational tasking to disrupt and deter piracy.
HMS Monmouth was also involved with another rescue operation in the Red Sea recently when she picked up a distress signal from the three-masted schooner Boreas.
The crew of the schooner were concerned about the health of one of their shipmates who had been unwell for several days.
As Monmouth was only 35 miles (56km) away, the frigate sailed to the Boreas’ assistance and sent her medical officer, Surgeon Lieutenant Samuel Jeffery, across:
Having assessed him on the yacht, we were able to provide some medical treatment to improve his symptoms,” explained Surgeon Lieutenant Jeffery.
Given the remoteness of the location and the time it would have taken for him to get to a hospital, it was decided to transfer him to our medical facilities onboard Monmouth.
The frigate subsequently transported the ill mariner to a local hospital to receive advanced medical treatment.
HMS Monmouth is part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) which conducts counter-piracy operations alongside the European Union Naval Force, which conducts World Food Programme escorts, and NATO, who conduct counter-piracy duties under Operation OCEAN SHIELD.
CMF also works alongside independently deployed nations who conduct counter-piracy and maritime security operations in the region.