The Plymouth-based survey ship HMS Echo has become the first Royal Naval ship to enter a port in the Middle East.
No ship under the White Ensign has come alongside in Duqm harbour in Oman – a former fishing village which has been transformed into a major new port and which owes its success in part to help from the Royal Navy. The approaches to the new port were extensively surveyed by HMS Echo’s sister HMS Enterprise in 2010 to ensure they could be safely navigated by vessels large or small.
The new harbour lies on Oman’s east coast, roughly half way between the capital Muscat and the southern city of Salalah – both regular ports of call for Royal Navy vessels operating in the Arabian Sea.
As part of Duqm’s development, HMS Echo was invited to the port to review the new facilities and services and assess whether they are suitable for the Royal Navy’s use.
Commander Phillip Newell, HMS Echo’s commanding officer, said: “The visit to Duqm has allowed HMS Echo to strengthen maritime relationships with Oman, test Duqm’s ability to work with the Royal Navy in future and provide an alternate port of call in a key operational area.”
In the mid-90s, Duqm was home to a few thousand people. By 2020 the goal is to turn it into a city of 100,000 inhabitants with an international port to become one of the most important business hubs in the region. To that end, a huge new dry dock – the second largest in the Middle East – has been built with breakwaters which stretch for four kilometres.
The Devonport-based survey ship’s crew took up the official tasking of testing the logistics support of the port to ensure to confirm that the quality, pumping rates, and ease of supply and quality of drinking water and fuel were up to standard.
In addition to the successful port visit, sailors enjoyed a rare period alongside when not required to conduct a crew watch handover – one third of the ship’s company changes on a regular basis so HMS Echo can carry out a much longer deployment than the usual six or seven months for Royal Navy frigates and destroyers in these same waters. This enables the ship to stay at sea rather than return to Plymouth to change crews.
HMS Echo is mid-way through an 18-month deployment improve charts used by seafarers throughout the world. The ship’s programme has her conducting hydrographic surveying in the Gulf until she returns to the UK later this year.