How a Royal Navy warship is conducting security operations in the Gulf -

HMS Montrose helping protect the "life blood" of Iraq

27 Feb 06

HMS Montrose is conducting maritime security operations with coalition forces in the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of Operation Telic. Now well into her six-month deployment, the Devonport-based ship is working under a rotational command currently held by the UK under Commodore Bruce Williams.

At the core of the ship's tasking is the protection of Iraqi oil terminals which are responsible for most of the country’s income. Primarily, this involves keeping all vessels clear of the oil platform's exclusion zone but also includes boarding other vessels, particularly cargo and fishing dhows. Montrose is also responsible for feeding an additional 75 US personnel, tracking small patrol craft and conducting security sweeps of the large oil tankers preparing to berth alongside the platforms to embark oil.

The ship's job in the region is vital in contributing to the Coalition efforts aimed at helping restore stability and economic growth to Iraq, as Commander Tony Watt, the Commanding Officer of HMS Montrose, explains:

"The relevance of what HMS Montrose has been tasked to do should not be underestimated. Oil is Iraq’s life blood and by helping to ensure the steady flow of income into Iraq, the Royal Navy is contributing directly to the country’s future stability and democracy."

In the operations room, where a permanent watch is in place, there is an air of expectation, as every member of the team remains vigilant, keeping alert for any radar contacts which may be aiming for the oil platforms. They are aided in this task by the bridge lookouts who provide visual identification of the craft.

Another aspect of the team's task is to monitor and identify the fishing dhows, which can number over 100 at any one time. Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Paul Hammond, believes it is a vital task:

"Our task here is both busy and demanding. The Operations Team are firmly focused on the protection of the oil platforms and keeping the enormous amount of local fisherman clear of the exclusion zone poses a real challenge."

The embarked seven-man Royal Marine boarding team regularly speak to the fishermen. In addition to spending time talking to the fisherman and establishing their fishing patterns and procedures, the Royal Marines boarding team also carry out security sweeps of the enormous oil tankers preparing to go alongside the oil platforms to refuel.

There can be as many as 12 large tankers at anchor waiting to take their turn to approach the platforms, all of which have to be searched. This task involves checking documentation, searching personnel and the ship's compartments, which can take up to three hours, as well as ensuring the safety of the tanker at all times.

Captain Alan Speedie, of the Royal Marine boarding team, enjoys the work:

"This is an excellent opportunity to integrate with the local people of Iraq, and receive a first hand appreciation of life in Iraq now."

In some instances the Royal Marines team is supplemented by the ship's own boarding team. The ‘blue team’ as they are known onboard (the ‘green team’ being the Royal Marines) carried out training in search and boarding techniques prior to leaving the UK. They enjoy what is effectively their 'secondary role' as it provides the chance for them to meet Iraqi people.

In addition to the busy operational tasking, HMS Montrose has also played host to members of the Iraqi Navy as part of the RN-led Maritime and Riverine Advisory Support Team training programme. The Iraqis spent more than a day onboard, viewing damage-control equipment, boats, seamanship evolutions and a fire fighting exercise. They left with a strong understanding of how the Royal Navy conducts training and daily routines.

There are also opportunities for members of the ship's company to take a break from tasks onboard and visit the oil platforms or other coalition ships. This is proving a very popular experience amongst the junior ratings who have been warmly welcomed during every visit.

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