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Royal Navy works against pirates and smugglers on West African mission

17 October 2023
The Royal Navy has helped West African nations counter pirates and smugglers and strengthened ties in the region in efforts to protect valuable trade routes.

Patrol ship HMS Trent is deployed long-term on a mission to the Mediterranean and African waters and, in her second deployment to the Gulf of Guinea, worked with coastal West African nations to disrupt illegal activity and promote security along busy shipping lanes.

Trent deployed with a specialist Royal Marines boarding team and a Puma surveillance drone as, alongside allies and partners, they worked to develop skills and techniques required to counter illicit activity that ultimately harms the prosperity of African nations and disrupts shipping that brings trade to UK shores.

“It has been a privilege for us to work with our partner nations and to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s commitment to improving maritime security in the region,” said Commanding Officer, Commander Tim Langford. 

Trent strengthened bonds with major visits across the region, including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, before playing a key role in an international exercise – known as Grand African Nemo – with 29 like-minded navies from primarily African and European countries but also Brazil and the United States.

All have a vested interest in security in the Gulf of Guinea, through which around £6 billion of UK trade alone passes every year.

Grand African Nemo marked the peak of months of patrols by HMS Trent and visits to nations to deepen bonds, flying the flag for the UK in a strategically-important region.

It included returning a Gambian Navy ship to sea, plus several high-profile port visits, including Cote d’Ivoire, the first stop in the country by the Royal Navy for 11 years. Trent hosted guests from ambassadors, politicians and defence leaders to schools and orphanages.

Through ship tours, flight deck receptions and capability demonstrations, including the embarked Puma remotely-piloted air system from 700X Naval Air Squadron and the Royal Marines boarding team of 42 Commando, the ship’s company provided partner nations and forces an insight into Trent’s role and potential in the region.

During Grand African Nemo, HMS Trent worked with navies from Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal. From countering piracy, smuggling and illegal migration off West Africa, vessels of all shapes and sizes came together to train and learn for a safer and more secure Gulf of Guinea.

“It was great to be able to take part in Grand African Nemo 2023 and facilitate training for several nations in the Gulf of Guinea,” said Lieutenant Ben Hunter, HMS Trent’s Operations Officer.

“After spending the last few months operating off West Africa contributing to Maritime Security Operations, to be able to build on this by participating in such a large exercise to develop the security infrastructure and contribute to boarding training has been very satisfying. 

“A highlight was exercising with the Gambian Navy. After visiting them in August and assisting in getting one of their ships back to sea, to then conduct training with them was incredibly rewarding.”

Adding to the patrol ship’s versatility for the first time was the Puma drone, launching from the ship to provide reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, monitoring an area larger than the size of Greater Manchester and providing valuable eyes in the sky for the Royal Marines boarding team. 

Lieutenant Max Tanner, the marine in charge of the boarding team, said: “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of HMS Trent’s deployment to West Africa. 

“The Royal Marines Boarding Team has fully integrated with the ship and, alongside 700X, has been a key enabler for the ship’s maritime security operations. We’ve enjoyed training with regional partners and demonstrating 42 Commando’s capabilities.”

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