After almost eight months deployed with a NATO task group, HMS Cornwall returns to HM Naval Base Devonport to be cheered home for Christmas by hundreds of family and friends and the Cornwall Pipes and Drums Band.
The Type 22 frigate was the flagship to the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) and led the group out of its traditional operating areas in the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and into the waters off Somalia to conduct counter-piracy operations as part of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield.
The ship now comes home with an enviable tally of successes in making the Gulf of Aden safer for seafarers and denying the pirates some easy pickings they had previously enjoyed. Not a single merchant vessel was taken by pirates in the Gulf of Aden in four months of the frigate’s presence. Last year six merchant ships were hijacked in area in the same period.
HMS Cornwall’s commanding officer, Commander Johnny Ley said the success in her recent operations is down to the men and women crewing HMS Cornwall: “HMS Cornwall is a proud and capable ship and we have worked her hard, in challenging conditions, over an extended period. The ship’s company have been absolutely first rate and they have continued to delivered in spades. It is down to them that we have not missed a single day on task. Throughout, the men and women in HMS Cornwall have been excellent ambassadors for their ship, the Royal Navy and their country wherever we have gone and with whoever we have been operating. Having achieved our mission it’s wonderful to now be getting back to Devonport to see all our friends and families again, in time to spend Christmas with them.”
HMS Cornwall (affiliated with the county of Cornwall ) has been away for 226 days. She has steamed 43,453 nautical miles which has required her to refuel while on the move at sea 22 times. Her Lynx helicopter has been airborne for a cumulative 214 hours (almost 9 days) carrying out 155 separate sorties ranging from tracking pirate camps along the Somali coast to casualty evacuation from nearby merchant ships in need.
Commander Ley added: “This deployment has been a real success for HMS Cornwall and her crew, proving beyond doubt her capability as a first class warship and a superb flagship to the task group. In particular, the deployment has seen us engaged in a vitally important maritime mission providing a visible, robust deterrent to the real and active threat of piracy off Somalia . Our contribution, along with that of other nations, has meant that during that time no vessels have been hijacked in the previously notorious waters of the Gulf of Aden . HMS Cornwall has proved herself to be at the top of her game once again. Every man and woman on board can be proud of our achievements. They have more than earned Christmas with their families.”
To keep her fighting skills honed, she has fired three Seawolf supersonic anti-aircraft missiles, 246 shells from her main gun, and over 30,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition as part of operational readiness training. And throughout the entire period she has never once been unavailable for operations.
HMS Cornwall sailed from Devonport in April and her programme was filled with large-scale naval exercises designed to develop NATO’s tactics in submarine hunting and air defence and some high-profile diplomatic Mediterranean port visits. However, this programme changed due to the threat posed by pirates to shipping off Somalia. The multi-national NATO Maritime Group ships are used to working with each other and are maintained at a high state of readiness to conduct operations at short notice. So, soon after the group entered the Mediterranean , SNMG2 was ordered further east to take on the pirates. In Crete the crew rehearsed intensive boarding operations and prepare the ship for the harsh Gulf of Aden summer. Commodore Steve Chick embarked to take command of SNMG2, with HMS Cornwall flagship.
HMS Cornwall and her group joined the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor, a 500 mile highway down the middle of the Gulf between Africa and the Arabian peninsula where merchant ships can get protection from the many naval forces on patrol It was soon recognised that better coordination of all the naval forces would benefit effectiveness against piracy. Commodore Chick and his opposite numbers in the EU, coalition, Chinese and Indian task groups have helped closer cooperation to significantly reduce duplication and be more efficient and effective.
HMS Cornwall’s change in mission required a shift from being a top all-rounder to highly specialised pirate deterrent. The pre-deployment exercises under Flag Officer Sea Training staff at Devonport enabled the ship’s Lynx helicopter, Royal Marine and Royal Navy boarding teams, deck gun crews, intelligence gatherers, communications specialists and radar picture compilers, to work closely and effectively. Now they have their skills honed yet further with operational experience. It has been a hard routine of being ever watchful over months of long patrols at sea, with temperatures on the upper deck at times exceeding 45ºC. But the sailors break up the routine with a lot of fund raising entertainment for charity. The 30- female crew members completed their own Race for Life on board, raising over £3,000 for Cancer Research.