Having deployed from Devonport on 17 August, the type 23 frigate HMS Somerset made good progress towards her operating area and has recently relieved HMS Monmouth.
Once across the Mediterranean, Somerset dwelled a pause at Soudha Bay, Crete, where she undertook an Operational Capability Confidence Check (OCCC) at the NATO Forces Sensors and Weapons Accuracy Check Site (FORACS) range. The range enabled the accuracy of the frigate’s communications and sensors to be measured and assessed. Having been given the all-clear, Somerset proceeded through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea towards Aqaba, Jordan, where she took over from her off-going sister ship.
As HMS Somerset commences duties in theatre, the ship’s company are firmly focussed on defending worldwide trade routes and the deterrence of threats to UK prosperity, whilst maintaining the strong reputation of the UK. The Royal Navy is conducting Maritime Security Operations under international maritime conventions, ensuring security and safety in international waters. Such constabulary duties encompass counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations, as well as targeting narcotics and people smuggling. An end to the regional monsoon season is expected to herald an increase in illegal activity.
The ship’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Bristowe, said:
“En route to our operating areas we have successfully conducted full functional checks of the ship and have practiced maritime security and emergency procedures. During Britain’s economic recovery, the free and safe passage of sea trade is vital. HMS Monmouth has done a fantastic job over the last 6 months and we have conducted a comprehensive handover with her. It is now time for HMS Somerset to take up the tasking and I have complete confidence that we are ready to deliver what is required of us.”
A key facet of Somerset’s maritime security tasking is the execution of boarding operations. Her ship’s company have been preparing for this deployment since returning from the Gulf in December last year, and have been rehearsing drills throughout her transit into theatre.
The 180-strong crew has been bolstered to 205 by the embarkation of 829 Naval Air Squadron Merlin Flight and a Royal Marine boarding team from the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines (FPGRM). As a coherent unit, HMS Somerset is able to contribute to her mission by using her long range sensors and helicopter to detect and identify suspect vessels, and conduct boarding operations from the sea or air.
During HMS Somerset’s brief period alongside in Aqaba, the ship’s boarding teams were pleased to train with their contemporaries in the Royal Jordanian Naval Force. Both Jordanian and British teams exchanged ideas on tactics and operating procedures on a purpose built training rig. Sgt Peerless, a trained Modern Urban Combat instructor, passed on his knowledge to an enthusiastic audience. Other instruction encompassed ladder drills, the use of dual weaponry and ‘take-down’ drills versus compliant and non-compliant suspects. HMS Somerset’s ‘Blue’ team leader, Lt Mike Williams, said: “This was an outstanding opportunity to cooperate and learn from a nation with which we have a long-standing military tradition.”
Leading the engagement was Commodore John Clink OBE, Commander Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, who was embarked for the hand-over. He said:
“I am delighted to get the chance to visit Somerset early in her deployment and meet a professional Ship’s Company who bring a great deal of experience from their previous deployments. The reducing monsoon will mean that I am sure they will be busy in the important work of counter-terrorism and counter-piracy.”
On sailing from Aqaba Somerset conducted manoeuvres with the Royal Jordanian Naval Force fast patrol boat King Abdullah. Such exercises help reinforce partnerships with the UK and Jordan, and provide reassurance of international cooperation and shared aims.
Throughout Somerset’s deployment her ship’s company will continue to promote stable and co-operative relationships with friendly and neutral nations with whom she has contact. However, she will remain at readiness to respond to any tasking, ranging from humanitarian aid to full maritime or littoral conflict.
Powerful and versatile with the capability to operate anywhere in the world, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of the RN surface fleet.
The 13 Type 23 frigates form 50% of the total frigate/destroyer force in the Royal Navy.
Originally designed for the principal task of anti-submarine warfare, they have evolved into multi-purpose ships with the capability to operate anywhere in the world.
The effectiveness of these ships is enhanced by their stealth design, which reduces their radar signature significantly.
In addition to warfare roles, these ships also conduct embargo operations using boarding teams inserted from the ship’s boats or helicopter, disaster relief work and surveillance operations.
The present HMS Somerset is the fourth to bear the name and was built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd in Glasgow.
She was launched on 24 June 1994 on the Clyde by Lady Elspeth Layard, wife of the then Second Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Michael Layard, and commissioned on 20 September 1996.
Follow HMS Somerset on Twitter @HMS_SOMERSET.