The Portsmouth-based frigate was Britain’s input to the week-long ‘Stakenet’ exercise, alongside contingents from the United States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
Stakenet is an annual exercise run under the banner of Combined Task Force 152 (CTF 152) - the Bahrain-based maritime force responsible for security at sea in the Gulf.
The emphasis is on maritime infrastructure protection, namely ensuring the security of oil rigs and gas terminals which pepper the 97,000 square miles (251,000 square kilometres) of the Gulf from the shores of Kuwait and Iraq to the sands of the UAE.
For HMS St Albans it was the first real test since she arrived in the Gulf following an eventful 7,000-mile (11,000km) journey from Portsmouth which saw her Merlin pluck 13 mariners from a stricken tanker, the MV Pavit, before the frigate took part in an anti-submarine exercise involving HMS Turbulent among others.
Lieutenant Commander Will King, St Albans’s operations officer, said:
Stakenet is the first opportunity we’ve had to work alongside our partners in the region and we’ve been very impressed with the task force as a whole.
Its ability to work together and defend these vital installations has been excellent and the success we’ve had in Stakenet indicates that, as part of CTF 152, St Albans is well positioned to contribute security and stability in the Gulf.
During operations off Iraq, we repeated time and again the importance of the Khor Al Amaya Oil Terminal and Al Basrah Oil Terminal facilities to the country’s economy - generating well over 80 per cent of the nation’s income.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Royal Navy vessels conducted regular patrols of the terminals to protect them and train Iraqi sailors and marines to defend them, which they are now doing.
Important as the Iraq platforms are, however, statistics for the wider Gulf show how vital this part of the world is to the global economy; experts reckon as much as 30 per cent of the world’s energy demands are met by the region’s resources.
As far as the UK is concerned, gas accounts for more than a third of its energy needs - with a substantial proportion of that gas being supplied by Qatar in liquefied form and transported in gigantic tankers to specialist facilities, including a huge complex at Milford Haven.
So the TELIC mission which ended in the spring with the Royal Navy’s pull-out from Iraq has become a broader maritime security mission throughout the Gulf, with HMS St Albans the first ship to slip into the new role.
St Albans’s Commanding Officer, Commander Tom Sharpe, explained:
Although only two months into our deployment a great deal has already been achieved. And now we are in the Gulf itself, our ability to ‘reach out’ in this area which, in maritime terms, is actually quite small, has been significant.
‘Influence’, ‘deter’, ‘reassure’, ‘protect’ are the words that define our mission in this critical part of the world. Putting them into practice is proving challenging and rewarding in equal measure and it is hoped that both ours and the wider Royal Navy presence here will have a lasting effect.
The bulk of the work so far is ‘alongside assurance’ - explaining to the myriad and varied mariners in the region the work of the Royal Navy and allied navies to tackle issues such as smuggling, terrorism, people trafficking and other nefarious activities on the high seas.