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Forth patrols paradise on ten-day environmental mission to South Georgia

HMS Forth with fishery protection ship Pharos off the South Georgia coast
23 April 2021
Patrol ship HMS Forth carried out a ten-day environmental mission to South Georgia to protect the wildlife paradise.

The ship – the Navy’s permanent presence in the South Atlantic – left her regular patrol zone around the Falklands for her third visit to the remote British territory, the final time for a good six months as winter in the Southern Hemisphere sets in.

Joining the River-class ship for the visit were Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians from the Royal Logistic Corps, and Army and RAF chefs who fancied trying their hand at cooking at sea and helped to deliver 240 meals a day to the 80 souls aboard.

One of the main efforts of Forth’s visit was to land Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians led by Sergeant Bethany Bray from the Royal Logistics Corps.

Their mission was to locate and deal with leftover historical munitions, in this case from the conflict in 1982.

The island was the first place occupied by Argentine forces in March 1982… and the first place liberated by British forces the following month, following a naval bombardment of the hills around Grytviken and an assault by Special Forces and Royal Marines which led to a rapid surrender by the occupiers.

Nearly 40 years later and the disposal team, accompanied by Petty Officer ‘Cat’ Stephens and Able Seaman El-leigh Neale, returned to the scene of the barrage on the hills above Grytviken where they found rocket motors which could have posed a hazard to the British Antarctic Survey scientists who work there year-round, or to the seals, seabirds and penguins who call the island home.

AB Neale even had the chance to set off the detonation herself, and fittingly described the mission as “the bomb”! The success of the explosive ordnance disposal team means South Georgia is now safer for tourists, scientists and animals alike.

This is my second time in South Georgia after 14 years and it remains a career highlight

Lieutenant Commander Richard Attwater

Personnel were landed at King Edward Point near to the British Antarctic Survey’s South Georgia research station and at Husvik harbour (another abandoned whaling station) for 72 hours of adventurous training in the harsh environment.   

Naval Chaplain Thomas Bakulumpagi led a service in Grytviken church – at 54 degrees South it’s one of the most southerly houses of worship in the world.

Back at sea, Forth linked up with Pharos SG, the South Georgian fishery patrol vessel, to conduct joint training during the patrol. Pharos does what River-class ships do waters around the UK: ensures fishing vessels stick within the regulations.

South Georgian waters are home to lucrative stocks of Patagonian toothfish, cod icefish and krill – which can only be harvested in specific quantities and at certain times of the year.

Beyond a spot of joint boarding/inspection training, the two vessels inspected Fortuna glacier which spills into the Atlantic on the island’s north coast.

It’s just one wall of ice encountered by Forth on her final visit of the Austral summer to South Georgia.

Overhead, support was given by the Royal Air Force’s A400M “Grizzly” transporter from Mount Pleasant in the Falklands.

The aircraft flew a 1,700-nautical-mile round trip on a ‘cold stare’ mission – to identify large icebergs in Forth’s path which may pose a hazard to the ship and her crew. This included the remnants of A68a which only a few months ago was the largest iceberg in the world, and which recently grounded on South Georgia’s continental shelf splitting into many smaller parts.

“The South Atlantic is a truly joint environment and this patrol is proof of that. Engineers, bomb disposal technicians, submariners, chefs, medics, civilians, infantry and sailors have come together to achieve a common goal. This is my second time in South Georgia after 14 years and it remains a career highlight,” said Forth’s Executive Officer, Lt Cdr Richard Attwater.

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