Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Medway is knuckling down nicely to her new mission: working with the RAF and Army to provide reassurance to the Falkland Islands and environs.
The warship has now spent two months in the South Atlantic – relocating 6,000 miles from the Caribbean where she’s spent the majority of her active life, as she stands in for her sister.
HMS Forth, the Royal Navy’s regular presence in and around the Falklands, is undergoing maintenance in Gibraltar.
“Many of the ship’s company have never been to the Falkland Islands and quickly discovered the vast differences between the Caribbean and Falkland Islands,” said Lieutenant Nico Melesi, HMS Medway’s Marine Engineer Officer.
“Not many who joined the ship thought they would be swapping warm beaches, flip flops and shorts, for warm jackets, warm drinks and penguins.”
The change of operating region meant a change of clothing for all aboard: insulated jackets and winter boots for all. Whilst owing to the colder sea temperature, some oils used in the ship’s machinery have also been swapped to accommodate the changes in viscosity.
The ship’s heaters had also not been used much in the Caribbean, so these also needed testing prior to arrival; while the heavily-used air conditioning systems are enjoying a well-earned rest from the searing heat of the tropics.
The ship’s mission is slightly different: on the one hand there’s the constant task of supporting and reassuring British citizens in the Southern Hemisphere, but counter-narcotics and disaster relief operations are largely on hold.
The primary role of all UK military presence in the Falklands is that of deterrent, reassuring the local population, conducting patrols of sovereign waters, visiting islanders in some of most remote communities and providing monitoring duties in tandem with RAF assets.
In addition, there’s combined training with the Roulement Infantry Company and the RAF to demonstrate the ability of all three Services to work together seamlessly, in this instance training in and off West Falkland, the less populous of the two main islands.
For those who’ve not been, the Falklands are rather like patches of Cornwall… or Wales… or perhaps the Outer Hebrides: hilly, undulating, frequently marshy terrain, very green, sparsely populated and rather lacking in trees, yet with pristine beaches and clear, if very chilly waters.
They do not possess the rugged beauty of South Georgia which falls within the bailiwick of South Atlantic patrol ship.
Passage by sea is the only way to make the 2,000-mile round trip and Medway paid two visits before winter begins to set in.
Once they’d arrived, the Crew got ashore to stretch their legs and get up close with the island’s rich wildlife, notably king penguins, and fur seals, and filled their photo albums with snapshots as Medway sailed through the picture-postcard Drygalski Fjord near the southern tip of South Georgia.
“Coming to South Georgia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’ve been lucky enough to do it twice in one month,” said Able Seaman Hattie Haycock.
“The landscape and wildlife are absolutely breath-taking, and it was really interesting to learn about the history of South Georgia. I’ve never been to sea before and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had HMS Medway as my first ship.”
Now back patrolling the main Falklands archipelago and working alongside both the RAF and Army, as well as island authorities such as Governor Alison Blake, who visited Medway upon her arrival and outlined the importance of the ship’s presence and role.
“The past six months have been a very exciting time for HMS Medway; two hurricanes, a £24 million drugs bust and rescuing crew of a sinking tug,” said Commanding Officer Commander Chris Hollingworth.
“Covering 6,000 miles from Florida to the South Atlantic is no mean feat, yet we’ve hit the ground running with two operational patrols to South Georgia.
“This really demonstrates the exceptional capability and versatility of the South Atlantic Patrol Vessel.”