HMS Echo Pays Historic Visit to Libya

HMS Echo Pays Historic Visit to Libya

IF YOU don’t recognise the ancient ramparts – or the flag for that matter – it’s because no Royal Navy sailor has seen this historic fortress up close in decades.

This is the Assaraya Alhamra (the Red Castle), bastion of Tripoli for more than half a millennium, as seen from the bridge of HMS Echo – the first British warship to visit the Libyan capital since the fall of the Gaddafi regime last autumn.

The survey ship spent five days in Tripoli as part of initial steps to rebuild the republic’s Navy after the 2011 civil war – most of Colonel Gaddafi’s fleet was knocked out in the conflict.

As part of efforts to forge a new navy, senior and junior sailors joined the Plymouth-based survey ship both alongside in Tripoli harbour and at sea – where they were treated to an object lesson in modern hydrographic work.

Echo is in the final stages of a 19-month deployment, the bulk of which was devoted to gathering data and updating seafaring charts of waters east of Suez.

But the final couple of months of her marathon stint away from home has been devoted to working in the Mediterranean –Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar have all been visited, but Tripoli was undoubtedly the highlight.

The groundbreaking five-day visit to the Libyan capital began with fire-fighting and damage control demonstrations, ship’s tours, and an extensive look at Echo’s impressive hydrographic and oceanographic survey equipment which just a short time before had discovered an underwater mountain the size of Gibraltar in the Red Sea.

The tours culminated in a day at sea as that survey equipment was fired up and the approaches to Tripoli searched.

Using her multi-beam echo sounder the ship discovered an uncharted wreck and put her side scan sonar in the water to fully investigate the discovery. The result: one suspected sunken WW2 liberty ship discovered.

As if that wasn’t enough, guests were treated to watching man overboard drills and headed out into the Med on the ship’s Pacific 22 seaboat.

Back in Tripoli, marine engineering students from the city’s university filed aboard and were given an extensive tour of the ship’s propulsion plant and the unique ‘Azipod’ thrusters which give Echo her incredible manoeuvrability.

In addition the Libyan Navy’s head, Cdre Hassan Ali Bushnak, visited the ship for an appreciation for the Royal Navy’s survey capability before flying to Britain to see the Senior Service’s two principal training establishments for would-be sailors at HMS Raleigh (for ratings) and Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth (for officers).

Just as Libyans sampled Echo, so Echo sampled Libya. A friendly football match was held between Echo and a Libyan Navy select XI, who promptly trounced the visitors 6-1.

And many of the ship’s company were given a tour of the capital courtesy of British Embassy staff – not least Martyrs’ Square, a stone’s throw from the waterfront and a huge open space synonymous with the uprising against the Gaddafi regime.

“Martyrs’ Square was a pleasant place for a cup of coffee and it was fascinating to see the balcony from which Gaddafi used to address the masses,”

said Cdr Matt Syrett, Echo’s Commanding Officer.

“Tripoli had the same ‘hustle and bustle’ of any other North African city and it was a really positive sign that the country is looking forwards not backwards.”

Cdr Syrett added: “We really enjoyed the privilege of representing the Royal Navy on such an important visit. The senior Libyan officers were enthusiastic about their country, their expectations for the future and their hope that the Royal Navy might assist them to regenerate Libya’s naval force.”

His ship is now in the final days of her deployment. She’s due back in Devonport this month.

You can read a two-page special feature on Echo’s deployment in August’s edition of Navy News.

Naval Today Staff, August 7, 2012; Image: Royal Navy