Indian Ocean: HMS Sutherland to Banish Pirates

HMS Sutherland to Banish Pirates

Royal Marines aboard HMS Sutherland have been honing their pirate take-down skills by ‘rapid roping’ from the frigate’s helicopter in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Despite punishing temperatures– at least mid-30s Celsius by day – the Fighting Clan continues the struggle against international terrorism and the drugs trade.

The swords come courtesy of the Royal Marines (well daggers and rifles).

The sorcery is provided by Warlock – callsign for HMS Sutherland’s Merlin (yes, we know Merlin’s a wizard, not a warlock…).

On a sweltering day in the Indian Ocean in high summer, Royal Marines commandos donned full combat gear to practice rapid boarding from the frigate’s helicopter, first over the (comparatively) spacious flight deck…

…and then, for greater realism, the green berets swooped down on to the small amount of deck between Sutherland’s main 4.5in gun and her Seawolf missile silo – a matter of a few square feet.

The reason? Well, pirate and smuggler dhows aren’t renowned for sweeping expanses of unobstructed deck, let alone a flight deck to set down a ten-ton naval helicopter.

When not inspecting vessels for real – or carrying out reassurance visits to lawful mariners to explain the international security mission in the Indian Ocean – the combined boarding team of green berets from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines at Faslane (the Navy’s specialists in board and search) and the frigate’s own boarding team drawn from her ship’s company, which works hand-in-hand with the Royals, have been on the water and in the air to ensure their skills never fade.

The Merlin is rapidly becoming the aircraft of choice in the RN’s ongoing struggle to help drive pirates, terrorists, smugglers and people traffickers from 2.5 million square miles of sea from the shores of the Seychelles and east Africa to the Gulf and the Indian sub-continent.

It’s as fast (if not faster) than a Lynx – a cruising speed of 150kts (167mph) – has a greater range than the smaller Fleet Air Arm helicopter (450 nautical miles to 320), has no trouble accommodating a Royal Marines rapid roping assault team, or a sniper team, or a WESCAM infra-optic camera which can see through clouds. Plus the aircrew can track numerous surface targets thanks to its impressive sensor suite.

Which is exactly why sister Merlins from 814 Naval Air Squadron have been in the air daily off Weymouth during Operation Olympics to keep track on movements in the Channel near the Games’ sailing events.

But back to the Indian Ocean, assisting the ship’s flight – from 829 Naval Air Squadron based at Culdrose in Cornwall – were the flight deck team, joined by the Fighting Clan’s ‘bish’, Chaplain Bill Gates (not that one) who was treated to the full effect of Warlock’s downwash – which is much stronger than any other helicopter in the Fleet Air Arm’s inventory.

Sutherland and Warlock are in the early stages of their maritime security deployment, working alongside friendly nations and navies to patrol the Indian Ocean/east of Suez region.

They’re due back home just before Christmas.

Naval Today Staff, August 22, 2012; Image: Royal Navy