HMS Somerset, HMS Sabre Turn ‘Bad Guys’ off Gibraltar


HMS Somerset honed the skills of her boarding teams when HMS Sabre turned ‘bad guys’ off Gibraltar.

The frigate was forced to board the fast patrol craft when she played the part of an awkward merchant ship.

Somerset is heading east of Suez to conduct maritime security operations – clamping down on piracy, smuggling, terrorism, people trafficking and the illegal arms trade.

Key to the success of the Type 23 frigate’s mission is the ability to deal with merchant shipping correctly – and board them if needs be, sometimes on ‘assurance visits’ to explain the coalition mission in the region, at others to inspect cargoes if the warship isn’t happy with the responses it receives from radio inquiries…

Which is exactly what happened when the ‘MV Star’, a small coastal freighter, decided to be obstinate.

As soon as Somerset left territorial waters after a brief visit to the Rock, Sabre stopped her usual escort duties and became Star – a troublesome merchant ship not wishing to play ball with the frigate.

The Star’s ‘master’, Lt Adam Stevenson, stonewalls the frigate as she hails the vessel. He has engine problems, he explains, is behind schedule and wishes to make for Algeciras at full speed. He’s not at all keen to be visited by a boarding party.

Somerset’s operations room team aren’t satisfied and subject the star to a hail of questions.

“What nationality are you?”

“How many crew?”

“What is the cargo?”

“Do you have any livestock on board?”

“Yes, a ship’s parrot.” (Which isn’t necessarily true…).

The frigate isn’t satisfied. Minutes later two RIBs packed with sailors and Royal Marines Commandos are buzzing about the Star, before the green berets step on to her aft deck – and force the crew to lie down on it.

The commandos quickly find a (toy) submachine gun, some (fake) drugs and a quantity of (fake) ammunition, but the Star’s crew are continuing to be obstructive and the boat’s pitching and rolling violently in the heavy swell (which gives the green berets rather green faces).

Perhaps it’s the onset of seasickness which is the reason why it takes the boarding team half an hour to locate the prize: an officer cadet hiding in the engine room.

Once he’s located the training is over, Star is once again HMS Sabre and the debriefing begins.

“We learned a lot from this,” a Royal Marines sergeant tells Sabre’s crew.

“We’re not used to working on such small boats and yet this is very similar in size to the craft we’ll be boarding on this deployment.”

Lt Stevenson is glad Sabre – a distinctive sight in Gibraltar waters thanks to the shark’s teeth painted on her bow – has been of use to the frigate and her boarding parties.

“We enjoy helping RN ships prepare for their deployments – and it provides us with a greater variety of work,” Sabre’s Commanding Officer says.

Sabre and her sister HMS Scimitar safeguard warships entering and leaving the Rock, making sure the waters of the British territory are secure with regular patrols as part of the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron.

As for Somerset, she’s continued on her way through the Mediterranean to take up station in the Middle East.

Source: royalnavy, August 25, 2011;