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RN officer hands over Gulf mission after safeguarding half a billion tonnes of shipping

A Wildcat helicopter on Montrose's deck at sundown
20 November 2020
Half a billion tons of oil, gas and goods have passed safely through the troubled waters of the Middle East thanks a Royal Navy officer and his team over the past six months.

Commodore Rob Bellfield has handed over command of international Coalition Task Force Sentinel to fellow Briton Commodore Craig Wood after a demanding – and successful – tenure.

He has used 58 warships during his tenure of the task force, which provides security and reassurance for all merchant shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz – gateway to the Gulf – and the Bab al Mandeb Strait – gateway to the Red Sea.

In particular, more than 1,200 merchant ships, totalling over 500,000,000 tonnes, flying the flags of the coalition’s nine member nations – such as the UK, USA, United Arab Emirates and Australia – have sailed through the choke points incident-free during Commodore Bellfield’s command.

The task force, run from Bahrain, marked its first anniversary earlier this month. Frigate HMS Montrose – stationed in the region for three years – has spent much of her time on Sentinel duties, although most Royal Navy ships operating in the region have contributed to the security mission at some stage.

We have grown, matured and become confident in our mission to deter those who seek to undermine freedom of navigation and the rules-based order in the maritime domain

Commodore Rob Bellfield

In addition to the 16,000 hours of cover warships have provided – equivalent to 95 weeks of protection – while helicopters and patrol aircraft have watched over the vast region on 13,000 hours of sorties (roughly 18 months in the air).

More than 17,000 ships per year pass through the Bab el-Mandeb every year, and over vessels 42,000 enter or leave the Gulf annually – vital to the global economy.

US Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Samuel Paparo said Sentinel had grown and improved thanks to Commodore Bellfield’s efforts to provide “a 24-hour watch, seven days a week” which had reassured merchant seafarers that the waters were “safe and open” for them to sail through.

Commodore Bellfield said: “It has been an honour and privilege to command this outstanding task force and work with such professional sailors and ships across the coalition.

“We have grown, matured and become confident in our mission to deter those who seek to undermine freedom of navigation and the rules-based order in the maritime domain.”

Commodore Wood, who has more than 30 years’ experience under his belt, including command of destroyers HMS Liverpool and Dragon, says there will be no let-up in the security mission.

“The world no longer feels the same as it did before. Now more than ever we need stability, and stability generates confidence – instability here causes problems everywhere,” he added.

It is an honour to continue the momentum generated by Commodore Bellfield and this mighty task force, because as long as the threat persists our mission endures.”

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