HMS Monmouth and her Royal Marines have been working with the US Navy to demonstrate how they can help keep the sea lanes open in the Middle East.
The Plymouth frigate HMS Monmouth joined forces with a United States warship and air power for an exercise involving the military and merchant shipping to show how the two can work together to ensure safe passage on the high seas.
HMS Monmouth, known as the Black Duke, was given the task of providing close-in protection to two huge tankers - including the Bahamian-registered Arcturus Voyager (333 metres long and displacing 160,000 tonnes) which travels at only 5 knots/6 miles per hour (9.26 kilometres per hour).
Aircraft involved were a US Seahawk helicopter, Orion eye-in-the-sky patrol aircraft, F18 Super Hornets and HMS Monmouth’s own Lynx helicopter which landed Royal Marines boarding team by rapid roping on to the Arcturus Voyager while smaller boats delivered the rest of the boarders.
This demonstrated how the Royal Navy responds to pirates or terrorists threatening merchant vessels - exactly as Royal Marine commandos from RFA Fort Victoria did on the Italian MV Montecristo in 2011, to free the crew from pirates.
Lieutenant Chris Hollingworth, principal warfare officer in HMS Monmouth, said:
It was great to be able to demonstrate to the tanker captains how we would be able to deal with threats and offer them a level of protection. We were able to neutralise potential threats by both directing support aircraft and using our 4.5-inch [114 millimetres] Mk8 gun.
HMS Monmouth’s commanding officer Commander Gordon Ruddock said of the exercise:
It will give confidence to the merchant marine community that we are ready, willing and able to protect them should they need us.
With fully-laden cargos of over 150,000 tonnes, it is important that merchant ships such as these are able to transport their cargo around the world without fear of piracy or other attack.
His ship has recently taken over from HMS Diamond on patrol until returning to Plymouth in the spring.
The patrol is vital to UK and world trade because each day 17 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz, while 3-4 million barrels are moved through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, gateway to the Red Sea.
In a typical week, more than 500 ships pass through Hormuz - 3 in every 5 of them energy carriers (including liquefied natural gas which is used in the UK).
The exercise tested mock crisis centre staff in Bahrain, merchant sailors and the military response should shipping come under terrorist attack.