UK: HMS Mersey Joins HMS Severn, HMS Tyne for Annual Fishery Protection Squadron Exercise

HMS Mersey Joins HMS Severn, HMS Tyne for Annual Fishery Protection Squadron Exercise

Royal Navy Fishery Protection Vessel HMS Mersey was joined by her sister ships HMS Severn and HMS Tyne for the annual Fishery Protection Squadron Exercise last week. The exercise saw the ships put through their paces in a series of challenging combined evolutions at sea as well as team-building and knowledge-sharing events ashore.

The exercise began as all ships, returning from Fishery Protection patrols around the UK, closed each other at the rendezvous point off Sandown Bay just before sunrise on the first morning. Falling into formation they wasted no time in commencing the first in a series of intricate manoeuvres with HMS Severn directing the rest of the Squadron into a co-ordinated anchorage at Spithead. Safely anchoring three ships in close proximity is no simple task and it provided an early challenge for the Navigating Officers and their bridge teams.

Safely clear of the anchorage it was Mersey’s opportunity to shine as she took the lead for a series of ‘Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres’, this involves a number of ships moving perfectly in time in a series of coordinated movements at set distances from each other. Zig-zagging and weaving her way at the head of the formation, Mersey successfully guided her sister ships into open water for a photo opportunity with a Lynx helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron and on to the serial that was certainly to make the most ‘impact’ during the day.

Whilst all three River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels are equipped for gunnery the nature of their routine fishery protection tasking means it is a capability that is rarely deployed. The annual squadron exercise provides a perfect opportunity for the weapons directors and their crews to dust off the anti-flash and test their sharp shooting skills with GPMGs and 20mm cannons against the other ships (it should be noted that the shots were aimed at a floating target rather than each other – that would take the competition a bit far). As HMS Tyne coordinated the positioning of all three ships in relation to the firing areas it was Mersey’s very own AB(Sea) Antony who claimed the honours as his 20mm shot struck a direct hit on the target.

After an enjoyable and certainly worthwhile day all that was left was for Mersey, flying her recently awarded Fleet Efficiency Pennant, to resume command and lead the other two ships back into Portsmouth dockyard for a coordinated entry, marking the shift from the sea-based element of the exercise to the events to take place ashore.

Day two saw a number of evolutions happening concurrently throughout the day involving all members of the various Ships’ Companies. Whilst the Commanding Officers and their Executive Officers met with representatives from the Squadron Staff for their annual Command Conference the Marine Enforcement Officers from all three ships held a similar discussion event with visiting staff from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) who hold overall responsibility for the enforcement of fisheries legislation in the UK. The event provided an opportunity to discuss best practice, effective tactics and to update those present on any emerging legislation and guidelines.

Whilst business was ongoing in the conference rooms in Portsmouth Naval Base, at HMS Nelson the real competition was just beginning as teams from all three ships took to the sports field to compete in games of football and that well known sporting classic, ‘back-pass’. Rivalry on the football field was fierce, with stand out performances from LS(Sea) ‘Geoff’ Hurst (unsurprising really with a name like that) and AB(CIS) Milroy Mersey stormed to victory with Severn finishing second and Tyne bringing up the rear. Focus then shifted to ‘back-pass’, a team sport vaguely resembling rounders but requiring the whole team to assemble on a mat and pass the ball over heads and between legs in an impressive feat of co-ordination in order to get an opposition player out. PO(ETME) Beever displayed his athletic prowess as his diving reach to home base helped secure yet another victory for Mersey who claimed overall victory in the sporting element of the exercise. Lt Pashneh-Tala, the HMS Mersey Wardroom representative said “whilst the exercise at sea yesterday was challenging in a professional sense, the sports field is the ideal arena in which to bring out the teamwork and determination we rely on so much in small ships, it also makes a nice change to see everyone enjoy themselves out of uniform after such a busy few months.”

With ‘work’ over, it was time for the Squadron to relax and put rivalries aside as they came together for annual ‘Fish Ball’; held at the Royal Maritime Club, this event is an opportunity for all ranks and rates from the Squadron to get together, reunite with old friends and let their hair down for the evening. Guests were treated to a three course meal and live entertainment featuring contemporary classics from the Frank Sinatra back catalogue as well as a DJ and dancing into the early hours.

Mersey’s Executive Officer Lt Rob Lamb said:

 “Overall the Exercise was a great success, the ships proved they could work together effectively and that even in evolutions not routinely part of their daily business, they were still able to perform to the high standard expected within the RN. The shore side aspects were of great use, providing an important opportunity to renew the connection between the MMO and the RN Officers who work on the front line of fishery protection and for everyone to relax in a more informal setting at a very enjoyable Fish Ball.”

HMS Mersey is one of the three ships which make up the RN’s Fishery Protection Squadron enforcing on a daily basis UK and EU fisheries legislation in order to ensure the long term sustainability of the UK fishing grounds. In addition, the three UK based Ships are the only Government Vessels (excluding the Nuclear Deterrent) on permanent patrol around the UK, contributing to the policing of UK waters and delivering an intrinsic element of the UK’s Maritime Security.

Naval Today Staff , February 24, 2012; Image: royalnavy