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HMS Montrose on rare visit to Darwin

5 February 2019
HMS Montrose became the first Royal Navy warship in a decade to visit Australia’s northernmost – and remotest – city when she dropped in on Darwin.

The Plymouth-based warship is on a three-year mission, the bulk of which will be spent patrolling the Gulf.

To get there, she is sailing ‘the wrong way’ around the world – West to East, via the Pacific – allowing the ship’s company a series of once-in-a-lifetime visits such as Easter and Pitcairn Islands, as well as rare visits to New Zealand and now northern Australia.

Nearly 5,000 miles of ocean separated the ship from her last port of call – Auckland – with Darwin, a passage broken up with exercises first with the New Zealand military, then the French and finally the Royal Australian Navy.

It was a pleasure to host both the Royal Australian Navy and Northern Territory government onboard, giving us the opportunity to thank them for their support and hospitality.

Commander Conor O’Neill RN

Upon sailing from Auckland, the frigate linked up with a New Zealand P3 maritime patrol aircraft to practise submarine-hunting skills ahead of an impending exercise she’ll take part in with the Japanese Navy on the next leg of her deployment.

Working with the Kiwis was made all the more enjoyable and seamless through the presence of four New Zealand sailors aboard, including Chief Petty Officer (Weapons Tech) Ross Collett and Able Seaman (Weapons Tech) Shane Gow.

They learned about the new Sea Ceptor air defence missile system – Montrose was one of the first ships in the Fleet to receive it – ahead of HMNZS Te Kaha and Te Mana being equipped with the state-of-the-art weapon. 

The four New Zealanders left the ship with unique memories – and NZ $300 for the Fallen Heroes Trust, made up of the loose change Montrose’s sailors were left with after their visit to Auckland. The cash will help families of Kiwi military personnel wounded or killed in action over the past 20 years.

Off New Caledonia a French Navy Guardian patrol aircraft was used to train Montrose’s operations room team and upper deck gunners in the art of air defence.

Aside from military exercises there was old school sports day featuring egg-and-spoon, sack and three-legged races, plus bucketball with the team from the 39-man-mess triumphing.

Once through the Torres Strait – separating Australia and Papua New Guinea – the frigate left the Pacific behind, passing coral reefs and small tropical Islands on her way to Darwin, where patrol boat HMAS Pirie was on hand to guide her into harbour.

The remoteness of the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory – Alice Springs is 930 miles by road, Perth and Sydney are a two-day drive, 2,500 miles away – means Darwin is an infrequent port of call for Royal Navy vessels (although the Wildcat helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron called in last year while on deployment with the French ship Dixmude).

Montrose’s footballers took on local side Mindil Aces and lost 2-1 in the very humid conditions of the monsoon season, while their shipmates took the opportunity to explore a city rebuilt four times in the past 120 years (three times after cyclones, once after a Japanese air raid – famously depicted in the Hugh Jackman/Nicole Kidman epic Australia).

“I enjoyed every second of our time in Darwin – despite losing in the football. The local hosting and opportunity to visit Darwin is one of the highlights of the deployment so far,” said Leading Engineering Technician (Communications and Information Systems) Jake Sykes.

His Commanding Officer Commander Conor O’Neill called on the Senior Naval Officer Northern Australia, Cdr Darren Rushworth RAN, then invited Australian sailors and local dignitaries to join him on breakfast.

“It was a pleasure to host both the Royal Australian Navy and Northern Territory government onboard, giving us the opportunity to thank them for their support and hospitality, look back on the long mutual history of our navies and consider how exciting the future will be, with the Royal Australian Navy choosing to procure the Type 26 Frigate as the future workhorse of their fleet as the Hunter class,” he said.

Having refuelled and topped-up on supplies, Montrose has now left Australia bound for Singapore.

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