HMS Pembroke tackles Baltic mines during NATO Exercise

Faslane-based mine hunter HMS Pembroke recently participated in a major NATO exercise, helping to keep vitally important sea lanes safe and secure.

Working as part of Standing Mine Counter Measures Group 1 (SMCMG1 for short), Pembroke helped locate and dispose of some 18 items of wartime ordnance during the operation in the Baltic Sea.

The Royal Navy Sandown Class mine hunter worked as part of a task group which consisted of 14 NATO and partner nations, including: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the United States. 

Operating off the coast of Lithuania, in total the team covered 54 square nautical miles – around 185 square kilometres – of seabed, scanning and identifying some 912 objects.  

It was a good result for HMS Pembroke and demonstrates the unique capability that mine hunters provide for the Royal Navy and NATO.

Lieutenant Commander Jim Lovell RN

Eighteen of those - 15 mines and three torpedoes - turned out to be explosive ordnance and were tackled by the task group. 

On top of that, the scanning also identified parts from two rockets, 34 mine chairs, three exercise mines and the wrecks of three ships!

The mine clearance mission, which is known as Exercise Open Spirit, has been on the go in the region each year since 1997. 

It is estimated that over 16,000 mines were laid in the area over the two World Wars and so tackling the maritime threat in Lithuania’s territorial waters is vitally important. 

During the exercise HMS Pembroke used her high-tech sonar to locate a Russian First World War mine in the approaches to Klaipeda harbour. 

The ship then deployed a remote underwater vehicle to dive down to positively identify the object, before Royal Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Divers took to the water to get rid of the 100 year old mine. 

Commanding Officer of HMS Pembroke, Lieutenant Commander Jim Lovell, said:  “Exercise Open Spirit 16 was an important operation for Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1. 

"For six of Pembroke’s crew this was their first deployment and the opportunity to work as part of NATO in the Baltic region is not something which many on board have experienced before.

“The disposal of mines off the Lithuanian coast over the two weeks helps ensure the safety and security of all those who rely on the sea. 

“It was a good result for HMS Pembroke and demonstrates the unique capability that mine hunters provide for the Royal Navy and NATO.”

SNMCG1 is made up of 19 warships carrying between them some 900 personnel.  For Exercise Open Spirit the group was split into two units with the German Navy’s Commander Martin Schwarz leading one group of warships and US Navy Commander Gareth Healy leading a unit of explosive ordnance divers.

Working closely alongside was the Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON) which was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Tadas Jablonskis of the Lithuanian Navy. 

The whole operation was organised by the Lithuanians under the leadership of Chief of Staff Svajunas Bandzeviěius.