A Plymouth based frigate has played a starring role in a maritime security exercise off the coast of West Africa.
Whilst on deployment on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) reassurance duties, the Type 23 frigate, HMS Argyll, has successfully completed the multi-national exercise, Saharan Express, off the cost of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania.
The purpose of the exercise was to help West African nations develop their own capability to keep the Gulf of Guinea safe, to improve the security of trade and energy extraction, and of vital fishing stocks. In the spirit of international cooperation, Atlantic-facing nations that took part included Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, France, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, The Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.
HMS Argyll initially played the part of a merchant vessel carrying out illegal activities that was boarded by a search party from one of the participating African nations – later the roles were reversed.
Commander Tim Neild, the Commanding Officer of HMS Argyll, said: “Our participation in Saharan Express was expressly requested by the US Navy who were extremely happy with our work at the same event last year. The aim this year was to build regional maritime security and to bring West Africa’s naval capability together. Exercises have included port security, boarding exercises as well as medical casualty and communication drills. We are extremely pleased to have been invited back by the US to work with key regional stakeholders to tackle maritime challenges.”
During the exercises Argyll’s boarding officers donned their berets and acted as independent assessors whilst other members of the ship’s company performed role playing duties as crew members. Dressed in civilian clothing, some found the acting all too easy and really got in to their roles as the Master, First Mate or Engineering Officer.
Sub-Lieutenant James Richardson played the role of a merchant ship Master that was carrying drugs.
He said, “I was told that the Royal Navy would be a career where no two days are the same. To be an integral part of a multinational training scenario has been great. It was clear to see that the Royal Navy is held in such high regard by the other participating nations.”
Argyll’s boarding officers formed a strong working relationship with their Liberian counterparts and by the third day of operations it was clear that the training had been mutually beneficial and that lessons had been learnt.
Sub-Lieutenant Greg Padden, Argyll’s boarding officer said: “After only completing boarding officer’s course a matter of weeks prior to deploying, the opportunity to consolidate my knowledge and hone my skills with colleagues from other nations has been a massive bonus. This experience will stand me in good stead when the call comes for real and I have to board a vessel involved in illegal activity.”
On the final day at sea, Argyll played host to Rear Admiral Cheikh Cissokho, the head of the Senegalese Navy, and Captain Andy Lennon, United States Navy Saharan Express Director, to give them an opportunity to witness the collaboration and training first hand.
Commander Tim Neild added: “The Royal Navy is at sea every day, working with international partners to provide global maritime security where it is needed. The ability to control the seas helps counter illicit activity such as trafficking of people and illegal material, oil bunkering, drug trade, illegal fishing, and piracy. Saharan Express has served as an excellent opportunity to work with partner nations to enhance maritime security in this vital region of the world.”
On completion of the exercise, HMS Argyll sailed from Dakar ready for the next chapter in her deployment which will see her work alongside the Cape Verde Coast Guard before continuing with further operations with West African nations and several high profile visits in support of the UK’s International Defence Engagement Strategy.