The Royal Naval frigate HMS Somerset is making good progress towards her operating area and has recently taken over duties from sister ship HMS Monmouth.
Once across the Mediterranean, HMS Somerset paused at Soudha Bay, Crete, for an operational capability check at the NATO range to confirm the accuracy of the communications and sensors. Having been given the all-clear, the frigate proceeded through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea towards Aqaba, Jordan.
As HMS Somerset began duties in her operational area, the ship’s crew is firmly focussed on defending worldwide trade routes and the deterrence of threats to UK prosperity, whilst maintaining the strong reputation of the UK. The Royal Navy is conducting maritime security operations under international maritime conventions, ensuring security and safety in international waters. Policing the shipping includes counter-terrorism, piracy operations, drug and people smuggling. An end to the regional monsoon season is expected to herald an increase in illegal activity.
Commander Paul Bristowe, the captain of HMS Somerset, said: “En route to our operating areas we successfully conducted full functional checks of the ship and drilled maritime security and emergency procedures. During Britain’s economic recovery the free and safe passage of sea trade is vital. HMS Monmouth has done a fantastic job over the last six months and we conducted a comprehensive handover with her. It is now time for HMS Somerset to take up the tasking and I have complete confidence that we are ready to deliver what is required of us.”
A key facet of HMS Somerset’s security patrol is boarding operations. The crew have been preparing for this deployment since returning from the Gulf in December last year and have been rehearsing drills throughout her transit into theatre of operations.
The 180 crew has been increased to 205 by the embarkation of 829 Naval Air Squadron Merlin Flight from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, Cornwall, and Royal Marine boarding team from the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines in Scotland. HMS Somerset uses her long-range sensors and helicopter to detect and identify suspect vessels, and conduct boarding operations from the sea or air.
During HMS Somerset’s brief period alongside in Aqaba, the boarding teams trained with the Royal Jordanian Naval Force. Both Jordanian and British teams exchanged ideas on tactics and operating procedures on a training rig. Sergeant Peerless, a trained modern urban combat instructor, took the sessions which included using ladders to board ships, weaponry and dealing with suspects. Lieutenant Mike Williams leads the ship’s crew boarding team. He said: “This was an outstanding opportunity to cooperate and learn from a nation with which we have a long-standing military tradition.”
Leading the engagement was Commodore John Clink OBE, Commander coalition Task Force (CTF) 150, who was embarked for the hand-over. He said: “I am delighted to get the chance to visit Somerset early in her deployment and meet a professional Ship’s Company who bring a great deal of experience from their previous deployments. The reducing monsoon will mean that I am sure they will be busy in the important work of counter-terrorism and counter-piracy.”
On sailing from Aqaba Somerset conducted manoeuvres with the Royal Jordanian Naval Force fast patrol boat King Abdullah to help reinforce international partnerships.
The ship will remain at readiness to respond to any tasking, ranging from humanitarian aid to conflict. HMS Somerset is due to return to the UK in the New Year.
Powerful and versatile with the capability to operate anywhere in the world, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of the RN surface fleet. The 13 Type 23 frigates form 50% of the total frigate/destroyer force in the Royal Navy as multi-purpose ships to operate anywhere in the world.
Images by Leading Photographer Abbie Gadd