The crew of HMS Penzance have tested navies safeguarding the Gulf in an all-action exercise to attack one of Iraq’s crucial oil platforms.
The minehunter joined American and Iraqi warships, and an Apache gunship, trying to wreak havoc at the northern tip of the Gulf by launching a mock attack on shipping around the Al Basrah terminal.
The platform is one of two off the Al Faw peninsula and is used by tankers from around the world who fill their holds with oil from Iraq.
At the peak of output, the two platforms have been responsible for generating more than four-fifths of Iraq’s national income.
Given their importance the two structures are heavily protected.
The Royal Navy spent nearly a decade shielding them while the post-Saddam Iraqi Navy was built up and took over the mission, known as maritime infrastructure protection , four years ago.
The Iraqis conduct regular training to ensure the platforms are safe, but the combined three-nation exercise raised the stakes considerably , and gave Penzance a chance to play a role far removed from her normal minehunting duties.
Among the various serials played out the ship, which is based in Bahrain for three years, was attacking the support ship RFA Cardigan Bay with US and Iraqi ships and an Apache hovering overhead.
This was all played out while the head of Iraq’s Navy Vice Admiral Ali Hussein Ali Al-Rubaye observed the proceedings.
“This is the first time I’ve fired the ship’s guns since I joined Penzance, and I’ve never taken part in an exercise with ships from another country,” said Able SeamanMichael Walsh, who manned the minehunter’s 30mm main gun.
“It was really exciting to shoot with targets and was probably my favourite part of the deployment so far.”
Helping him fend off incoming waves of attackers was AB William Levers. “I really enjoy practising the drills we would use to deal with a threat,” he said.
“It’s good to know that we have a team on board who can react to anything and keep the ship safe.”
As part of the exercise, the minehunter hosted Vice Admiral Ali and several Iraqi sailors.
“The Iraqi sailors were clearly very interested in the kit we have available,” said Lieutenant Matt Byers, operations and mine warfare officer.
As a diver, I was able to talk them through the details of the diving runs and explain how we operate to enhance our minehunting ability.
“It’s such a valuable capability, especially in this region, which is hugely important for global commercial trade and contains three of the world’s six maritime chokepoints.”
Directing the Royal Navy’s input in the training exercise was Commander Tim Davey, in charge of all four of Britain’s minehunters based in Bahrain, from Cardigan Bay, which normally acts as their command and mother ship.
“The maritime protection exercise is just one part of our operations, which aim to maintain safety and stability in the region, working closely with our partners in the Gulf,” he said.
“All in all, it was a great success, with capabilities proven and relationships strengthened.”
He and his force have now resumed more regular duties, helping to maintain freedom of navigation in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.