British warship HMS Montrose’s Royal Naval and Royal Marines Boarding Team (RNRMBT) has visited 36 fishing dhows in five days – a record since the team began boarding operations in the Gulf in August 2013.
HMS Montrose was operating under Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, part of Bahrain based Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) during the visits. CMF is the 29 nation partnership that provides ships and aircraft across the Gulf, Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa in support of maritime security and regional capacity building activities.
The Plymouth based Type 23 frigate’s RNRMBT used the visits to gather information and provide advice and assistance to local mariners. The team used two rigid hulled inflatable seaboats (RHIBs), each capable of reaching a top speed of 40 knots, to do the visits.
Such visits are used to build a picture of ‘pattern of life’ in the area to better spot illegal activity, as well as to build good relations with and offer assistance where needed to local seafarers.
HMS Montrose’s RNRMBT contains nine Commandos from Faslane based S Squadron, 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines as well as 15 Royal Navy warfare specialists, engineering technicians and logisticians from Montrose’s ship’s company.
Ordinarily the RN personnel man the upper deck weapons, maintain the engines and radars or cook the three meals eaten daily by the 200-strong crew on board Montrose.
But when “hands to boarding stations” is ordered, they change from their blue uniforms into the camouflage fatigues of the boarding team.
Commander James Parkin Royal Navy, HMS Montrose’s Commanding Officer, said:
“It is great to see my boarding team doing the job that they are trained to do. The fact that we have both Royal Marines and Royal Navy sailors in the boats together provides a formidable blend of skills and experience. They go out and put a professional face to the White Ensign for local mariners.”
“Keeping the sea boat alongside the moving dhow while both boats are rolling in the swell can be a challenge,” said Engineering Technician (Marine Engineering) Ethan Curley. “One of my roles is to be the scribe for the boarding officer when he asks the fishermen questions. It can be challenging for both parties to get their message across but it’s always smiles and improvised sign language and the fishermen’s English is usually much better than our Arabic or Farsi. All members of the team help out to make sure we leave them with a positive impression of the naval service.”
The RHIB-borne team can work in the tropical heat for hours at a time, conducting multiple visits in a day. Captain Chris Nightingale, Officer Commanding the boarding team said: “We maintain visual contact and comms with Montrose at all times. If we suspect illegal activity is taking place or the vessel’s flag doesn’t correlate with information we possess, we can board the vessel.”
Lieutenant Chris Poulson, HMS Montrose’s Officer of the Watch One, said: “I’ve found that most of the fishermen are quite friendly, happy to help and not dissimilar to fishermen I’ve spoken to in the middle of the English Channel. Most are just plying their legal trade on the sea and the things they care about most are the safety of their crew, their boat and their business.”
Captain Nightingale said: “A moment that sticks in my mind was when we returned to the ship at sunset to find a pod of dolphins coming to play with the seaboats. Even when we stopped in the water they continued to play. It was a great boost to morale.”