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HMS Montrose joins war on plastic in South Pacific

Commander Conor O'Neill inspects the beaches of Henderson Island for plastic waste
3 January 2019
Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose joined the international fight against plastic littering the oceans by recording pollution on four Pacific islands.

The ship's company and their Wildcat helicopter spent two days surveying remote islands – including Pitcairn, last resting place of HMS Bounty.

The Pitcairn Islands – Pitcairn, Dulcie, Oneo and Henderson – are British Overseas Territories and are protected by international law, preventing illegal fishing and pollution.

Pacific currents dump masses of debris on their shorelines – especially on Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dubbed ‘the most polluted island in the world’.

Upwards of 40 million items of plastic and rubbish have been washed ashore on the uninhabited island, which is about the size of Oxford; the ocean deposits up to 270 objects on its beaches every day.

Much of that debris was captured on camera by Leading Photographer Joe Cater, whose reconnaissance imagery will be pored over by conservationists who are planning a massive clean-up operation later this year

This was a very special visit – one that all of us enjoyed.

Commander Conor O’Neill

Pitcairn (population 52) is the only one of the four islands where human life can be found – mostly descended from the mutineers who took charge of the Bounty and scuttled the ship here in 1790.

Nearly 230 years later HMS Montrose anchored in the same spot, Bounty Bay, giving around 100 sailors and Royal Marines – half the ship’s company – the very rare opportunity to get ashore in long boats crewed by islanders.

The White Ensign has not been flown in Pitcairn since September 17 2000, when Montrose’s sister ship HMS Sutherland visited during a world tour.

The ship's company seized the chance to pick up souvenirs – postcards, hand carved gifts and honey from the craft market in the ‘capital’ Adamstown – and explore natural wonders such as Christian’s Cave and St Paul’s Pool.

There was also time to learn about the history of the island, the Bounty and the mutiny in the island’s museum and one sailor from Montrose’s namesake town in Scotland, James Valentine, whose death at the hands of the ship’s drunkard and incompetent doctor on the way to Tahiti was one of the sparks of the mutiny.

After tea at the residence of Pitcairn’s administrator, Nick Kennedy, with Mayor Shawn Christian – a direct descendant of lead mutineer Fletcher Christian – Montrose’s Commanding Officer was given a tour of the island, which is roughly as big as Swindon.

After enjoying islanders’ hospitality, the ship returned the favour; 20 Pitcairn residents were given a tour of the ship, before joining sailors for a brew on the flight deck.

Before departing with crests as gifts from the ship they serenaded the ship by performing their traditional song In the Sweet By and By.

"This was a very special visit – one that all of us enjoyed. Rich in history and beauty the island and islanders have certainly made an impact on the ship’s company," said Commander Conor O’Neill, Montrose’s Commanding Officer.

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