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‘Jam-packed’ Pakistani visit for HMS Lancaster

‘Jam-packed’ Pakistani visit for HMS Lancaster
7 September 2023
HMS Lancaster enjoyed a “jam-packed” few days in and off Pakistan.

The frigate – which is deployed long-term to the Middle East but crewed by sailors based in Plymouth – joined two Pakistani warships in the Arabian Sea for some combined training, after a short visit to Karachi.

The two Commonwealth navies work regularly together in the region on maritime security operations as part of the international effort to strangle criminal activity – notably arms and illegal narcotics smuggling – but this is the first time in 2023 Lancaster has had the opportunity to train directly with the Pakistani Navy.
Exercise Whitestar, which also involved the frigate PNS Taimur and corvette PNS Aslat, was relatively short but featured a “jam-packed schedule from the moment HMS Lancaster exited the breakwater”, said the frigate’s navigator Lieutenant Mike Duncan.

The crew immediately launched their Wildcat helicopter and both Pacific 24 sea boats with Royal Marines of 42 Commando aboard.

The coordinated ‘assault’ meant that the helicopter and boats simultaneously ‘pounced’ on the Pakistani frigate to demonstrate board and search techniques used by the Royal Navy – techniques which have repeatedly reaped rich rewards with a succession of drugs and weapons seizures in the Indian Ocean.
The all-action opening “set the tone for the next 24 hours,” said Mike as the two frigates were put through their paces in a series of joint activities, including intricate manoeuvres in close proximity, before the two navies converged again for a photoshoot to bring the curtain down on Whitestar. Sailors from the participating ships also traded places to sample life in the respective navies.

The diplomacy and goodwill elements of Lancaster’s spell with the Pakistanis came in Karachi. Despite being in town for just one day, the whistle-stop visit allowed time for a remarkably spritely 98-year-old Pakistani WW2 veteran, former Corporal Faiz Ahmed, to cross the gangway and tour Lancaster, while sharing his wartime experiences with the 9th Punjabi Regiment with crew.

“Working with our Pakistani friends and colleagues gave us all a superb opportunity to maintain our relationship as partners, operating together in the Arabian Sea for the collective security of the region,” said Commander Chris Sharp, HMS Lancaster’s Commanding Officer.

“Our navies are well aligned with lots of shared doctrine and culture so operating together was seamless. My ship’s company also had some time to sample the warm and generous hospitality of Karachi and the people of Pakistan. I hope we have future opportunity for joint operations under the Combined Maritime Forces.”
Lancaster’s ceremonial party were kept on their toes during a busy day of hosting VIPs, senior British and Pakistani officers and diplomats, led by British High Commissioner Jane Marriott, while the BBC’s Urdu channel and Pakistani national TV featured the visit.

“In a volatile world it’s important that friends stick together and support each other,” the High Commissioner said.

One of 18 female junior rates on Lancaster, AB(SC) Leni Milne, was among the sailors showing Karachi schoolchildren – predominantly girls – around the warship  ending up on the bridge where the young visitors could try out the captain’s chair.

“It was great fun to engage with these girls,” said Leni. “They were friendly and chatty, and had plenty of questions about life in the navy, especially as female personnel. The tour lasted around 45 minutes but in that time I think both us and the girls had learnt something about each other’s cultures.”

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