UK: Brief Encounter for RFA Argus

Brief Encounter for RFA Argus

RFA Argus met up with an old friend as she carried out drug-busting patrols of the Caribbean when she encountered former HMS Broadsword, now under the Brazilian flag. The brief, chance meeting with the frigate was one highlight of a busy month keeping drug traffickers under the knout and helping British and Commonwealth citizens.

Now there’s a sight to evoke memories of the Royal Navy in the ’80s and ‘90s.

Capt Gerry Patterson grabs his binoculars on the bridge wing of RFA Argus to take a closer look at BNS Greenhalgh – once HMS Broadsword – in the Caribbean Sea.

The aviation training and casualty treatment ship was on a drug-busting patrol when she bumped into the Brazilian frigate by chance.

The latter ship has recently completed an international exercise off the Florida coast, working inter alia with new destroyer HMS Dauntless.

The fortuitous encounter allowed the two ships to sail close together, permitting the exchange of light and sound signals, and a dip of ensigns.

Several members of Argus’ ship’s company still retain fond memories of serving on Type 22 frigates – which served from the late 70s until early last year when the final quartet of Cumberland, Campbeltown, Cornwall and Chatham paid off under the 2010 Defence Review.

Broadsword was the first of 14 Type 22 frigates built for the Royal Navy from the mid-70s until the end of the 1980s.

She was damaged in the bitter duel with Argentine jets off Pebble Island in the Falklands in 1982 – an action which saw HMS Coventry sunk.

After 16 years’ service, including peacekeeping duties in the Adriatic in the early 1990s during the break-up of Yugoslavia, she was paid off in 1995 and sold to the Brazilian Navy.

As for Argus, her recent duties have been a mix of counter-narcotics patrols, ceremonial events and stand-by to assist UK territories in the Caribbean should a hurricane strike (the season runs till the end of November).

The ship spent five days in Trinidad and Tobago, coinciding with the island’s independence celebrations.

Sailors were invited to march in a late-night independence parade, passing through the streets to the Port of Spain’s main square where a Union Flag was lowered and the Trinidadian flag raised.

Events continued the following day as Capt Patterson and other officers attended an even larger parade featuring contingents from the Trinidad Navy, Coastguard, army, fire service, police department and prison officers.

The display included a fly past from four Trinidad helicopters as well as drill displays performed to a unique reggae beat. Proceedings concluded with a 21-gun salute, but performed with buried mines rather than rifles or artillery.

While in Trinidad and Tobago, members of the ship’s humanitarian aid and disaster relief team were deployed to an area of the island that had recently suffered significant floods with loss of life.

The team spent time digging storm ditches and clearing debris so that future heavy rains should not result in the same dramatic levels of flooding.

Next stop was Montserrat for two days of disaster management planning and discussion with local teams.

The island is no stranger to natural disaster, having suffered both catastrophic hurricanes and volcanic eruptions in the past 20 years.

Much was learnt by both the ship’s company and the local management teams, and firm plans for how the ship could help the island if required were laid down.

During the brief visit, Argus’ 815 Naval Air Squadron Lynx flew several sorties over the island, carrying out an aerial survey of the ground inside Montserrat’s exclusion zone; the aircrew also identified several illegal drug plantations for investigation and destruction by the local police force.

Following on from the visit to the volcanic island, Argus sailed on to St Kitts and Nevis, once part of the British Empire, now independent.

Further discussions regarding the ships potential role in assisting in any natural disaster were held, and again the ships company had the opportunity to march in an independence parade.

Braving the 30°C heat, the marching platoon proved a popular addition to proceedings and was (literally) warmly welcomed.

The final port of call for Argus this past month was the French island of Martinique.

This unique and cosmopolitan island is regarded as a part of France, and as such retains much of the charm of a French community, albeit in a tropical climate.

It also uses the Euro as its main currency.

The ship enjoyed another warm welcome, this time from the French Navy stationed on the island, and had a very successful few days meeting the local population and reaffirming strong ties with our foreign cousins before sailing to continue her patrol of the Caribbean.

In between these port visits, the ship has continued her counter-drugs work with a specialist US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment embarked.

Naval Today Staff,October 17, 2012; Image: Royal Navy