New Year is no holiday for Royal Navy’s Gulf Force

2019 has begun as 2018 ended for Royal Navy ships in the Gulf – either on patrol or gearing up for one.

Most countries in the Middle East follow the Islamic lunar calendar – making it a regular working day, including for Bahrain-based RN personnel and ships.

Minehunter HMS Shoreham was at sea on a security patrol and practising diving operations on January 1 while engineers were preparing HMS Brocklesby to do the same.

More than 1,000 Royal Navy personnel are committed to the UK’s Middle East operation, Kipion, which focuses on keeping the sea lanes open and strangling illegal activity: piracy, drugs/charcoal smuggling, people trafficking and arms running.

New Year’s Day is a working day like any other

Captain John Craig RN

Five ships are permanently based at the new UK Naval Support Facility in Bahrain – four minehunters plus one RFA support vessel – soon to become six when frigate HMS Montrose is stationed there in a few months’ time.

In addition, destroyer HMS Dragon is in the Middle East on a seven-month deployment.

The actions of all are directed by the UK Maritime Component Command, the Royal Navy’s Gulf headquarters in a purpose-built building in Bahrain. It’s a ‘24/7/365’ operation.

“New Year’s Day is a working day like any other,” explained Captain John Craig, deputy commander of Royal Navy forces in the Middle East.

“At sea, fishermen fish, dhows move cargo, containers ships transport goods, and tankers carry the oil and gas that keeps the global economy moving.

“Whenever fellow mariners are at sea, so are British warships – 24 hours a day and 365 days a year - making sure that the shipping lanes stay open and stopping anyone who might wish law-abiding mariners harm.”

Coming across an unknown object on the Gulf sea bed on New Year’s Day, HMS Shoreham chose to send its dive team out to investigate, plunging into murky, but mild, waters (about 22°C) to keep their skills and procedures up to date… and to unfurl a White Ensign underwater.

“It might have been New Year’s Day, but we remain ready for any eventuality and my dive team enjoyed the good weather while practising our mine clearance diving skills,” said Leading Diver Jeremy Osborne.

The crew of HMS Brocklesby, alongside at Mina Salman Port, were readying the Hunt-class ship for the first patrol of 2019, carrying out engineering maintenance with the help of Forward Support Unit 2 – a team of specialist technicians based in Bahrain permanently on hand to help with larger engineering jobs.

“Regardless of what day it is, the Forward Support Unit is here to provide the engineering support to maintain the full capability of the minehunters,” said Warrant Officer 1st Class Paul Lewis, in charge of the unit.

With the permanent presence of a Type 23 frigate – and with it 200 plus extra sailors and Royal Marines – the UKMCC are expecting a busy final year of the decade.

“We also recognise that the year ahead will bring many challenges of its own. With our coalition partners at our side, we stand ready for whatever 2019 may hold,” Capt Craig added.