HMS Montrose arrives in Sri Lanka

A military band serenaded HMS Montrose into the Sri Lankan capital Colombo – her penultimate stop on an epic voyage from Plymouth to the Gulf.

After a brief pit-stop in Brunei for fuel and supplies, the frigate sailed 3,000 miles past Singapore and through the Strait of Malacca – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – to the Commonwealth nation.

A military escort and marching band were waiting on the jetty in Colombo’s civilian port for the frigate – as were several groups of VIPs, Sri Lankan media and groups of school children, all keen to look around the 4,500-tonne warship – while the ship’s company lined the upper decks in their finest tropical uniforms.

Once the gangway was across, the Brits proudly showed their guests around the frigate, talking about the deployment to date and the ship’s impending security mission in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

With Sri Lanka at the gateway of the Indian Ocean we had much to learn from the Sri Lankan Navy

Commander Conor O'Neill RN

“It was great to share our story with such bright and engaging individuals, recounting stories of our deployment really brought home to me just how far we have travelled since leaving Plymouth at the end of October 2018,” said Lieutenant Kate Pridham, deputy logistics officer.

The crux of the visit was sharing experiences of drugbusting operations with the Sri Lankan Navy; trafficking is a major concern to islanders as their country lies close to trafficking routes.

The hosts’ navy recently seized a large consignment of heroin bound for their shores and they were particularly impressed by HMS Dragon’s string of successes over the winter (eight busts and £200m of illegal narcotics destroyed).

Drugbusting will a key mission for Montrose during her stint in the Middle East, so there was also a lot for the Britons to learn; a team from the Sri Lankan Navy met Montrose’s Royal Marines and Royal Navy boarding team to exchange tactics and techniques.

It wasn’t all work however, as the ship’s company had time to explore Colombo, trying out local cuisine and exploring several of the golden sandy beaches, courtesy of the famous ‘tuk-tuk’ trike taxis to get around.  

On leaving Colombo, Montrose exercised with several Sri Lankan ships, before resuming her operational patrol in the Indian Ocean.

“With Sri Lanka at the gateway of the Indian Ocean we had much to learn from the Sri Lankan Navy, and it was clear that our long shared history and relationship is as important now as it has always been,” said Montrose’s Commanding Officer Conor O’Neill.

Next stop: Bahrain, where the frigate will spend the next three years and the sailors who brought Montrose out will trade places with their ‘starboard’ ship’s company as the first of several four-month-long crew rotations takes place to sustain the warship in theatre.