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Royal Navy ‘bobbies’ safeguard Gulf shipping over Christmas

Royal Navy ‘bobbies’ safeguard Gulf shipping over Christmas
17 December 2019
ROYAL Navy warships will act as ‘bobbies on the beat’ protecting ships in and out of the Gulf this Christmas.

Half a dozen ships stand ready to support a new international naval force set up to prevent merchant vessels being seized or attacked passing into and out of the Gulf through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

The International Maritime Security Construct builds on the work Royal Navy vessels – led by frigate HMS Montrose – have been performing since July.

On their own, the British vessels – which have included HMS Kent and destroyers Duncan and Defender – have safeguarded millions of tonnes of shipping.

Given the global importance of the Gulf to world trade – and energy supplies especially – military and political leaders determined that an international problem demanded an international solution.

The result is Operation Sentinel, run by a team or ‘construct’ of seven nations from a new headquarters in Bahrain.

The team – which includes five Royal Navy personnel – monitors a vast area, and incredibly busy waters: on a typical weekday there are at least 1,800 ships at sea between the shores of Qatar in the west and the Gulf of Oman to the east.

And not included on that complex picture are vessels under 300 tonnes - so the countless tugs, dhows and other small craft at work in the region.

Accompanying merchant vessels from the seven member nations – UK, US, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Albania – in and out of the Gulf are larger warships such as cruisers, frigates and destroyers.

They act as ‘sentinels’ on both sides of the strait, offering protection for tankers, container ships, liquid gas carriers, cruise liners and the like through the narrows.

And a number of smaller fast patrol boats act as ‘sentries’ operating across the southern Gulf providing additional protection on other key sea lanes, while maritime patrol aircraft such as Australian P8 Poseidons, gather intelligence overhead.

Collectively, the mission is known as Operation Sentinel and its operations officer, Commander Ben Keith likens it to a police mission.

“If you have a large house filled with valuable items, you want police outside protecting it. We are the bobbies on the beat, the deterrence,” he adds.

“We cannot protect everything - a determined burglar will always break into a house. But we know that if there is a warship is nearby it definitely acts as a deterrence.”

The mission is purely defensive in nature - to stop “state-sponsored malign activity” from disrupting or seizing shipping.

Lieutenant Sam Yee is one of the ‘battle watch’ team who monitor activity across the Gulf region, but the Strait of Hormuz especially, 24 hours a day.

Between 60 and 70 large merchant ships enter or leave the strait daily, while UK-registered ships flying the Red Ensign pass through perhaps twice a day.

“This is a job which makes a difference in the wider world - it’s certainly the most rewarding job I have done during my nine years as a reservist,” said the 35-year-old, normally based at HMS King Alfred in Portsmouth.

It takes between 12 and 18 hours to pass through Hormuz depending on the speed of the merchant ships and requires the crew of the accompanying warship to be fully alert to all dangers or threats –placing great demands on them for days on end.

Although the situation in the Gulf isn’t as tense as it was in the summer, the Hormuz mission will continue to guarantee the safety and security of mariners.

Commander Keith adds: “As an island nation, we depend on maritime trade – we have done throughout our history. So please spare a thought for those people on the front line who are delivering to keep your lives safe back in the UK.”

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