HMS Montrose Visits Algeria

HMS Montrose Visits Algeria

Although part of the ongoing Cougar 12 deployment to the Mediterranean, HMS Montrose was detached from the main Cougar Task Group for two weeks to visit Algiers, the capital and major port of the North African country of Algeria for two days in mid-November.

The purpose of her visit, the first by a Royal Navy ship for over 2 years, was threefold:

Strengthening UK and Algerian national bonds.

The UK already has strong ties with the North African country, with, for example Algeria supplying the UK with over a third of its natural gas requirement.

In addition, UK business is the biggest EU investor, contributing hundreds of millions of pounds per year to develop the Algerian oil and gas industry and national infrastructure.

The UK Armed Forces also train Algerian officers in both Royal Navy and RAF training establishments, and many senior Algerian military personnel have attended Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth and courses at the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwood in Fareham.

HMS Montrose hosted several events that fulfilled this theme, including a VIP lunch attended by HM Ambassador to Algeria, Martyn Roper, and senior Algerian military personnel, and a successful official reception for 200 international diplomatic and Algerian guests, including foreign ambassadors members of the small British expatriate community.

As well as promoting national ties, HMS Montrose also assisted in forging closer military links, by operating at sea with the Algerian Coastguard, and participating in a Search and Rescue (SAR) Exercise off the coast of Algeria.

During this very valuable day of training, Montrose’s Lynx helicopter (call sign Claymore) worked with one of Algeria’s new Merlin helicopters to winch off a simulated casualty from a vessel in distress (simulated by an Algerian Coastguard cutter) and then transfer him to the Algerian helicopter for final transit to shore.

This exercise was the first that the Algerian Navy have conducted with any other nation in 2012 and provided a great opportunity to foster an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding in the vital area of lifesaving at sea.

Promoting Trade and Industry

The second aim of the visit to Algiers was the opportunity to host a Defence and Security Industry Day.

Ten prominent, defence-oriented British companies came onboard HMS Montrose to use as the ship as a military backdrop for explaining their products and services to the Algerian Armed Forces.

Algeria has previously shown an interest in high quality British equipment, and has recently purchased Augusta Westland Super Lynx and AW101 Merlin helicopters for the Algerian Navy.

Well-attended by military personnel from the Algerian Ministry of Defence, the event was a great success, and although the ship itself was not involved in the discussions with Algerian personnel, her presence allowed the UK to showcase its reputation for supplying world leading defence equipment and training solutions.

Individual Engagement

As well as the engagement of senior officers with ambassadors, defence industry representatives, and other VIPs, the visit to Algeria was not all work work work.

As well as cultural visits to local museums, and opportunities to use the British Embassy social facilities, the HMS Montrose football team was also offered the opportunity to play against the Algerian Navy team.

Although unable to play in the National Stadium (due to a waterlogged pitch), a change in location to the Military Arena did not dent the spirits, and the sailors of the ship attempted to rise to the challenge of maintaining their unbeaten record on Cougar 12.

However, having thousands of sailors to choose from, as opposed to the ship’s 180, soon showed through, and the Algerian team proved to be very skilful and well-drilled, which unfortunately ensured a comprehensive 7-2 victory for Algeria over the ship.

However, the friendliness and warmth with which the match was played made up for the mismatch in skill, and HMS Montrose and the Algerian Navy exchanged suitable gifts in the post match celebrations.

On the final evening the Algerian hosts once again proved their munificence by inviting 64 of the Ship’s Company to their Central Military Mess for an authentic feast night of Algerian music and traditional food.

For several hours, HMS Montrose personnel took the opportunity to interact with their Algerian counterparts while a traditional band played authentic Algerian music (as well as a surprise rendition of The Beatles ‘Yesterday’).

As proud of their cuisine as they are of their history, the hosts took delight in presenting to their guests a traditional “mechaoui” – a whole lamb spit-roasted and served fully intact, to be torn by hands and shared amongst friends.

The hospitality and generosity of Algeria is sure to be long remembered by all those present.

After HMS Montrose departed Algiers, the Commanding Officer, Commander James Parkin, said:

“Everyone in Montrose has been proud to represent the UK, and the Cougar Task Group, during our short visit to this exciting and vibrant nation.

“As well as further cementing the strong ties between our two countries, our professional and social interaction with the Algerian Armed Forces has created a real buzz which will hopefully allow UK interests to flourish in one of our key Allies in the region.

“My sailors have greatly enjoyed their time here, and our presence has once again demonstrated the usefulness of ships such as Montrose in protecting our nation’s interests through engagement, exercises, and experience.”

Naval Today Staff,November 23, 2012; Image: Royal Navy