On Boxing Day, HMS Argyll, the most hi-tech Type 23 ‘Duke’ class frigate deployed on front-line Royal Navy service, met up in the Indian Ocean with her Australian counterpart HMAS Parramatta. Both ships are assigned to the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), which is charged with delivering maritime security and counter-terrorism from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman under Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). 

HMAS Parramatta’s Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk lands on with HMS Argyll in the foreground. (Image by Flight Commander, Lt Duncan Thomas RN, HMS Argyll, 26 Dec 11.)

The ships spent a few hours in-company, which is the usual practice for Commonwealth and NATO navies meeting up in the open ocean and provided an opportunity to practice important ship handling and flying skills, which included: close proximity manoeuvring in formation, approaches for replenishment at sea (RAS) and cross-deck helicopter landing practice for the respective pilots/flight deck crews.  Given the common heritage between the two navies it was inevitable that some rivalry would breakout amongst the respective Warfare brethren and the scene for the ‘Maritime Ashes‘ was set.  All that was needed was the wicket (the Indian Ocean), some rules, some exercises and a keen sense of competition.

HMAS Parramatta’s Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk lands on HMS Argyll (From above). (Image by Flight Commander, Lt Duncan Thomas RN, HMS Argyll, 26 Dec 11.)

Today there was no Ponting or Strauss in what could have been seen as the traditional Boxing Day test match but there were two equally adept teams of sailors looking to achieve victory at sea.  HMAS Parramatta opened the batting with a sound display during the Officer of the Watch manoeuvres but during the RAS approaches and flying HMS Argyll was able to level the score.  The Commanding Officer of HMS Argyll, Commander Paul Stroude, said ”It is always a joy to meet up with a ship of the Royal Australian Navy and practice some tactical manoeuvring whilst in-company.  Our two navies share a long history of operating together in both war and peace. As a result we are well aware of the professionalism of the Australians and we are incredibly proud of the bond that our countries share.  Inevitably with such a strong bond and mutual respect, there can be a sense of rivalry with today being no exception.  The ‘Maritime Ashes’ was an assured way of maximising the benefit of a routine exercise. It only seems fair that it ended in a draw.”

During flight deck operations on HMS Argyll, AET Emmett prepares for the helicopter’s approach with HMAS Parramatta in the background. (LA(Phot) Caroline Davies, HMS Argyll, 26 Dec 11.)

After a few hours together over the festive period, the two ships parted company to take up their respective tasking for CTF150 having enjoyed a more than usually competitive set of manoeuvres between two ships meeting on passage.

HMS Argyll is in the middle of a 6 month deployment to the Middle East where she is currently operating as part of CTF 150, which is one of three Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) multi-national task forces.  CMF is a 25 nation coalition with its HQ in Bahrain.  CMF nations are committed to working together in order to promote security and prosperity across 2.5 million square miles of international waters stretching from the Northern Arabian Gulf to the Suez Canal and the Somali Basin, which encompasses some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.  Its main focus areas are defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, enhancing regional co-operation and promoting a safe maritime environment.