Standing 34m high and weighing 22,000 tons, Her Majesty’s Ship Ocean was an unexpected change to the skyline of Beirut port this weekend. The imposing structure of the warship, with its helicopter hangar and launchpad, saw HMS Ocean’s first visit to Beirut port on the way back to the UK, intended to mark the UK’s commitment to Lebanon.
During her stay in the Port of Beirut, the flag ship and crown jewel of the Royal Navy hosted a series of high profile events, school and media tours designed to emphasise and deepen the partnership - in the defence field and beyond - between the UK and Lebanon. Thirty students aged 16-17 from the British Council’s ‘Taqaddam’ (Moving Forward) youth leadership project joined the Royal Marines on a guided tour of the ship, and were put through their paces with British Navy teambuilding exercises.
HMS Ocean Commanding Officer Captain Pedre, Ambassador Shorter, and Defence attaché Chris Gunning met Lebanese army commander General Jean Kahwaji and Minister of Defence Yacoub Sarraf. Rear Admiral Burton met with LAF Navy Commander Admiral Majed Alwan. And before the ship’s departure, the Ambassador hosted over lunch the chiefs of the Lebanese security agencies.
The highlight of HMS Ocean’s visit was the evening reception, attended by the representative of President Aoun, the minister of Defence Yacoub Saarf, the Prime Minister’s rep Mr. Ghattas Khoury, and former minister Yaseen Jaber representing Speaker Berri. Ambassador Hugo Shorter announced further support to the Lebanese Rangers of further equipment to help build their ‘off road’ and ‘all-weather’ capabilities. He added that the essence of the UK’s approach is this: protecting the co-existence at the heart of the Lebanese model requires a strong state. Guests also had the chance to see the latest models of high end British luxury cars on display from Jaguars, to Aston Martins and Land Rovers.
Addressing his guests, British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter said:
Welcome aboard Her Majesty’s Ship Ocean, the crown jewel and flagship of the Royal Navy, an institution whose skill, professionalism and glorious history are renowned across the globe.
Standing 34m high and weighing 22,000 tonnes, HMS Ocean is a manifestation of Britain’s role in promoting global stability and security. Every day, across the oceans and seas, our Navy is protecting trade routes; tackling trafficking and piracy; and delivering humanitarian assistance when disaster strikes.
Ancient Lebanon helped shape the history of the Mediterranean. Its residents were explorers, sailors, and maritime traders who were famed for their extraordinary seafaring. Today, those descendants are a powerful network stretching thousands of miles.
The UK too has always looked to the wider world, and we have alliances on every continent. One of those partnerships is with Lebanon, strengthening Lebanese institutions and supporting Lebanese sovereignty. Because Lebanon’s stability and security must be protected, as we have reaffirmed as part of the UN Security Council time and time again.
As for the UK, we have always looked to the wider world, and we have alliances on every continent. 1 in 10 Britons live overseas. Like the Lebanese, they’re bankers and business leaders, scientists and artists, or even programmers in the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub. And it works in reverse too: our education system attracts the best. Out of all the world’s heads of state and government, one in seven was educated in Britain.
So although the visit of HMS Ocean is a demonstration of our commitment to Lebanon, our partnership goes far beyond defence. Many of you know that the UK is one of the world’s top aid donors – but you may not realise that Lebanon receives the second most UK aid per head, of any country in the world.
We are proud of our partnership with your country, through its institutions. And as a demonstration of our strong belief in the importance of Lebanese sovereignty, we have so far invested $100m in the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces since 2011. And I am pleased to announce the delivery of further equipment worth $65,000 for Lebanese Rangers of further equipment to help build their ‘off road’ and ‘all-weather’ capabilities.
Working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Lebanese municipalities, we’re supporting communities with cleaner water, farming equipment, better roads, and public spaces. Working with the Ministry of Education, we’re giving schoolbooks to children. Training teachers. And, along with the British Council, equipping young people with the skills they need for the future. Working with the Banque du Liban we’re supporting start-ups and creating hi-tech jobs.
I want the partnership between the UK and Lebanon to be positive and lasting.
The UK once helped Lebanon gain its independence, and we remain firm supporters of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty today. The essence of our approach is this: protecting the co-existence at the heart of the Lebanese model requires a strong state. So we build long-term relationships with key Lebanese institutions, to help them deliver for all Lebanese.
Lebanon’s resilience is often praised as a miracle, and credit for that goes first and foremost to the Lebanese people. But I believe that it is a miracle we have in part achieved together.
Because Britain and Lebanon are both at our best when we work hand in hand with our friends and allies.
And that is why we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon for security, stability and prosperity.
The school visit is part of the British Council’s ‘Taqaddam’ (‘Moving Forward’) project aimed at delivering soft skills for students to improve employability skills. It also touches on other skills related to creative innovation; effective communicator, critical thinker, confidence, and purpose.
HMS Ocean weighs 22,000 tonnes and is the largest operational warship in the Royal Navy. Her primary role is as a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship.
In the months prior to arriving in Lebanon, HMS Ocean has been the Flagship for Combined Task Force 50 (CTF50), a multi-national task force maintaining the free flow of trade, freedom of navigation for shipping and regional security in the Middle East. This was the first time that the UK had commanded CTF50 and the Task Force was led by Commodore Andrew Burns OBE Royal Navy, Commodore Amphibious Task Group.
Her visit to Beirut port concludes a Middle East deployment of HMS Ocean, which has seen the warship work with a number of countries East of Suez as well as with other coalition partners, including USA, France and Australia, demonstrating commitment to the region.