MANAMA – HMS MONMOUTH (F235), operating under the Combined Maritime Forces, came to the aid of the MV CARAVOS HORIZON who had come under attack in the Southern Red Sea. 

HMS MONMOUTH comes to the aid of a Merchant vessel that had been assaulted by suspected pirates while in transit through the Red Sea. (Image by LA(Phot) Stuart Hill / MOD – Crown Copyright)

The Maltese-flagged, Greek-owned MV CARAVOS HORIZON, a 63,000 ton bulk carrier, was on passage south through the Red Sea when boarded by six armed men.  The 24 Filipino crew took shelter in the ship’s citadel (a secure room within the ship).

MONMOUTH, known as the “Black Duke”, was patrolling 90 miles to the South when alerted to the situation.  The Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 Commander, Captain James Gilmour of the Royal New Zealand Navy tasked MONMOUTH to respond to the distress call and the warship immediately diverted, accelerating to top speed to intercept the vessel. 

MONMOUTH launched her Lynx helicopter from 60 miles away to assess the situation.   Lt Chris Easterbrook Royal Navy, pilot of the Ship’s helicopter “Black Knight” said:

Image by LA(Phot) Stuart Hill / MOD - Crown Copyright

“Having heard about the distress of the CARAVOS HORIZON, we urgently launched to assess the threat to the merchant vessel and to provide real-time information to MONMOUTH.  We stood off at a distance, relaying the current situation and taking photographs and video footage to aid the Commanding Officer’s decision making process.  We had to make sure that we understood the situation onboard fully, in order to determine what level of threat the boarding team may face once embarked.”

At the same time, communications were established with the Master of the MV CARAVOS HORIZON, safe inside his citadel with his 23 crew.  He provided information on what had happened to his ship, but was unaware of the current situation onboard and had not heard any activity outside the citadel. 

Whilst approaching, MONMOUTH was also liaising with a nearby US warship, USS BATAAN (LHD 5), dispatched a MH-60S helicopter to assist and provide a wider area of surveillance.  Analysing all the reports that were coming in, there appeared to be no sign of the attackers and only a ladder over the side of MV CARAVOS HORIZON was spotted.

Image by LA(Phot) Stuart Hill / MOD - Crown Copyright

A team of Royal Marine Commandos, backed up by a Royal Navy Boarding Team, embarked on MV CARAVOS HORIZON by helicopter and boats.  They systematically worked their way through the vessel ensuring it was clear of intruders.  Lt Harry Lane RM, the Officer Commanding the Royal Marines, said:

 I was immensely proud of the way my team conducted themselves.  This was a time critical operation; it was late in the day and we had very few daylight left.  At the very minimum we needed to get on board and into the superstructure of the merchant vessel before last light.  We were able to achieve this with some very quick planning and the use of the RN boarding team to bolster our numbers.” 

 As soon as it became clear that the attackers had fled, the boarding team freed the crew from their refuge and handed control of the vessel back to the Master.

A member of the force protection team providing cover during the boarding of the merchant vessel. (Image by LA(Phot) Stuart Hill / MOD - Crown Copyright)

The Commanding Officer of HMS MONMOUTH, Commander Dean Bassett Royal Navy said:

 “My entire Ship’s Company responded with alacrity to the plight of fellow mariners and were determined to play their part in ensuring that HMS MONMOUTH was fully prepared to come to the aid of MV CARAVOS HORIZON.  Although a large vessel, the boarding was well within the capabilities of my highly skilled teams onboard MONMOUTH.  Although in this instance the assailants had fled whilst we approached, our robust response will act as a deterrent to others from committing such crimes and provide reassurance to the maritime community that we are here to safeguard the high seas.”

Image by LA(Phot) Stuart Hill / MOD - Crown Copyright

The MV CARAVOS HORIZON continued her voyage and MONMOUTH returned to her operational tasking under the Combined Maritime Forces to disrupt and deter piracy.

Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) conducts counter-piracy operations alongside European Union Naval Forces (EUNAVFOR) who conduct World Food Programme escorts and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) who conduct counter-piracy duties under operation Ocean Shield.  CMF also works alongside independently deployed nations who conduct counter-piracy and maritime security operations in the region.