The Royal Navy has kept close watch on seven warships and one submarine passing in opposite directions through the Channel.
Three British patrol ships – Portsmouth-based sisters HMS Tyne, Severn and Mersey – have been called upon to monitor the presence of seven Russian Federation Navy vessels plus an Algerian submarine as they sailed past the British Isles.
The latter was tracked on the surface as it returned home to Africa by HMS Severn, which normally trains Royal Navy navigators but also acts as the eyes and ears of the Fleet in home waters.
“It has been a pleasant duty to welcome our Algerian friends for their transit of UK waters in great weather as they head home,” said Commander Philip Harper, Severn’s Commanding Officer.
Trainee officer Sub Lieutenant Lara Martin added: “This has been my first operation in the Royal Navy – I feel I have broadened my knowledge and experience tenfold within the last week of the role that we play in protecting our national interests.”
Heading in the opposite direction, HMS Mersey met up with a trio of vessels – frigate Admiral Kasatonov, a supporting tug Nikolay Chiker and tanker Vyazma – off Ushant in France and stayed with them through the Channel and Dover Strait and into the North Sea.
Her monitoring mission was made more challenging by adverse weather conditions such as high winds and large sea states which meant the Russian ships took longer than usual to pass through as they sheltered in more confined waters before resuming their journey.
HMS Mersey’s ship’s company worked around the clock to ensure that the three Russian ships passed the area safely with navigating officer Lieutenant Thomas Bees says that “the Russian Federation naval vessels operated in a safe and professional manner throughout their transit.”
His Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Edward Munns added: “Mersey proved her flexibility once more in being able to react to a short notice tasking quickly and successfully. Throughout this tasking my ship’s company displayed outstanding professionalism to switch their mind set to National Tasking and dutifully ensured the safe transit of these vessels.”
The primary role of Portsmouth-based Mersey and her sister Tyne is to ensure all fishing vessels operating in home waters abide by the rules and stick to UK regulations in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone on behalf of the Marine Management Organisation.
With the River class typically at sea for ten months of the year, they act as the eyes and ears of the Navy around the UK, keeping an eye on any suspicious activity as well as monitoring the presence of any warships from countries of interest to Britain and her NATO allies.
Before the Kasatonov group sailed through the Channel Mersey worked in tandem with HMS Tyne to keep constant watch on four Russian vessels sailing through the Channel towards the Atlantic.
The quartet – three Ropucha-class amphibious ships capable of landing tanks, Minsk, Kaliningrad and Korolev, and the frigate Boiky – were located in the North Sea and closely followed through the Dover Strait and into the English Channel before reaching the open waters of the North Atlantic.
As part of the operation, the Portsmouth-based offshore patrol ships worked with several allied NATO ships and aircraft to ensure the Russian force was observed seamlessly. Tyne’s operations officer Lieutenant Justin Shirtcliff said: “All interaction with Russian units was safe and professional throughout the operation.”
Lieutenant Nicholas Ward, Tyne’s executive officer, added: “Once again HMS Tyne demonstrated the fantastic capability that the River-class ships provide. We have quickly switched from conducting fishery protection to working with our NATO allies monitoring foreign warships operating close to the UK. We’re all proud on Tyne to be part of the team protecting the nation’s interests.”