Combined Maritime Forces ship HMS Montrose came to the rescue of a stricken merchant vessel (MV) during exercise Lucky Mariner; a combined forces, UK Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO) and shipping industry joint exercise in the Gulf.
The purpose of the exercise was to build on the close working relationship that the armed forces have with the merchant shipping community and to develop industry understanding of how the military provides help to merchant vessels in need.
HMS Montrose played a pivotal role in the exercise, being responsible for keeping a large area of water clear of possible threats, such as pirates or terrorists, and in so doing helping to keep safe the 600 or so merchant vessels in the Gulf.
HMS Montrose used her Lynx helicopter to look for suspicious vessels, which for the purpose of this exercise were simulated by United States Coast Guard vessels.
MV Al Safliya played the stricken vessel. Damage control and medical training sessions were carried out onboard, with both military and merchant crews learning a great deal from the encounter.
Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Evans, Operations Officer HMS Montrose said: “HMS Montrose remains at a high state of readiness for operations whilst on patrol in the Gulf. Providing reassurance to and interacting with the merchant community is vital for maintaining the sea lines of communication in the region.
“We enjoyed our time spent working with our US partners and experiencing life on board one of the many thousands of merchant vessels that ensure trade continues around the world was interesting.”
Lieutenant Kevin Trujillo, Commanding Officer, the ‘enemy’ US Coast Guard Baranof, which was deterred from attacking the MV Al Safliya by HMS Montrose’s Lynx helicopter said: “The textbook air deterrence with the helicopter flying over my ship was superb. It was great flying and truly an enjoyment to watch. My crew said it was the highlight so far this exercise.”
During the exercise HMS Montrose embarked a US Navy reservist, Lieutenant Chuck Smith, who works closely with merchant shipping in his role as a strategic sealift officer for the Naval Co-ordination and Guidance to Shipping (NCAGS) organisation.
After his time on board, Lieutenant Smith said: “From the initial planning meetings in Bahrain, to the execution of the exercise, I have been very impressed with the co-operation between the USNS and RN warships, and the capability they can provide to protect the merchant vessels in this area.”
Lieutenant Adrian Long, Deputy Marine Engineer Officer, HMS Montrose, was part of the fly-away team sent to assist the MV. He said: “It was incredibly interesting to visit the MV Al Safliya to witness the procedures that they have onboard to protect themselves and to deal with incidents. The crew were very receptive to our ideas and advice and it is satisfying to know that we are held in high regard for the work we do to keep the merchant fleet safe.”
Chief Mate, MV Al Safliya said: “This exercise is completely different from our day to day running but it’s nice to be able to test both our reactions and that of the military in supporting us against the back drop of a realistic scenario.”
After the exercise HMS Montrose received the following communication from Commodore Naman USN – COMDESRON 50, Command Task Force 55:
“Bravo Zulu to the sailors of HMS Montrose for your exemplary preparation and execution of Lucky Mariner 14-1. Your hard work and dedication contributed to a safe and successful exercise. Your ability to adapt to changing events speaks volumes about your flexibility and readiness. I continue to be impressed by all of your superb professionalism and dedication to mission. Your superior performance during Lucky Mariner was impressive. This has proved again that together we can execute Maritime Security Operations with a Coalition Force and ensure freedom of movement in the sea lines of communication of our area of responsibility. Well done. Thank you and I look forward to the next opportunity to work with you.”
Lieutenant Commander Hannah Mackenzie, Officer in Charge of UKMTO Dubai, said:
“We provided support to the exercise in two areas. The first was as an emergency contact point, which is what we do on a daily basis anyway, so it was business as usual but in an exercise role-play environment. The second was as host to a US Naval Cooperation and Guidance to Shipping (NCAGS) officer. He shadowed us and attended briefings to industry on what was happening, what the threat was and what the military were doing to assist.
“The merchant shipping community in Dubai trialled forming their own crisis response centre, so we were able to just pop over to give them briefs in person rather than over the phone. I think they really appreciated the personal interaction.
“It was quite an intense couple of days and we all got a lot out of working with our US cousins. Likewise, I think the way we do things was an eye-opening experience for them and they learned a lot too.”
Alex Walker, industry representative for Oil Companies International Marine Forum, said:
“The Lucky Mariner series of exercises involving UKMTO, NCAGS, MARLO [US Maritime Liaison Office] and coalition forces presents industry and the military with an opportunity to improve defensive tactics with real people on real ships in real time.”