The Plymouth Royal naval warship HMS Argyll has visited Africa to host a conference and share experiences of enforcing land and maritime security with the Ghanaian navy.
HMS Argyll’s flight-deck and hangar, with awnings rigged and white ensign backdrops, proved to be the perfect venue in Tema, Ghana, to host the delegation of politicians, academics and military personnel gathered to discuss maritime security off West Africa.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs, (a non-profit, non-governmental organisation from London) held a conference on board. The institute, also known as Chatham House, exists to analyse and promote the understanding of major international issues and current affairs and regarded as a world’s leader on this.
Commander Tim Neild, the commanding officer of HMS Argyll, said: “The theme for the conference, maritime security, is one of the key roles that the Royal Navy fulfils on behalf of Her Majesty’s government and therefore it was wholly appropriate that this conference was held in HMS Argyll. The conference prompted frank and honest discussions regarding maritime security off West Africa and all parties left with a better understanding of the current situation and with ideas of how piracy, drug trafficking and illegal fishing could be best tackled in the long term.
“During our time alongside and at sea we have strengthened our relationship with the Ghanaian Navy. Maritime security is vital for both of our nations and the opportunity to work together on these issues has developed capacity whilst garnering a mutual understanding through information sharing.”
After the conference, guests were treated to a demonstration the capabilities of a Royal Navy frigate.
Leading Seaman Rob Punter, who talked about the ship’s rigid inflatable boat, explained: “The boats we have are extremely robust and provide a number of capabilities from carrying an armed boarding team to a suspect vessel, to rushing a casualty from ship to shore to rescuing a man overboard. As the senior trained coxswain, driving the boats at well over 40 knots is one of the best parts of my job! The guests thoroughly enjoyed the capability brief I gave and were really interested.”
Whilst in port HMS Argyll also afforded an opportunity for 45 members of the Ghanaian navy to develop their maritime skills. Sessions in fire-fighting, damage-control, seamanship and boarding other vessels were provided and the information given by HMS Argyll’s crew was warmly received by fellow mariners.
Meanwhile, 19 of Argyll’s sailors donned their camouflage rig and headed to the jungle to participate in warfare training. The Ghanaians have huge experience and are experts in this field and it was therefore intended to give the Royal Navy an insight into the survival techniques required to operate in such extreme environmental conditions. Despite the prospect of spiders, snakes and other jungle creatures the Royal Navy team rose to the challenge.
Engineering Technician Alex Jay said: “It was an amazing experience and a real eye-opener. We were taught how to make water when there’s none around and how to lay booby traps in the jungle. Luckily, I didn’t come across any spiders because I’m terrified of them and although they showed us how to cook a python in an ant hill, we didn’t have to eat it.”
The ship’s football team also tested their skills against a Ghanaian navy team. Played on a testing pitch, in the 36 degrees sunshine and with only eight players per team the game finished goalless.
On the final evening in Tema a formal reception was held onboard with the Ghanaian Minister of Defence, Hon Min Mark Woyonko, as the guest of honour. Commander Neild gave the opening address to the large party of military, business and diplomatic guests before the customary naval sunset ceremony.
HMS Argyll sailed from Tema with the Ghanaian Naval Ship Garinga. Following close-quarter manoeuvres, HMS Argyll’s Lynx helicopter was launched to conduct winching practice on to Garinga, an exercise seldom practiced by the Ghanaians, and then the Royal Naval boarding team conducted a boarding on to the Ghanaian vessel.
As Argyll sails from Ghana she looks forward to conducting further operations with West African nations and several more high profile visits. On completion of her tasking in the Atlantic, the ship will undertake a number of important regional engagement visits before returning to her Devonport home in September 2013.