HMS Quorn Divers Gear Up for Biggest Mine Warfare Exercise in the Gulf

HMS Quorn Divers Gear Up for Biggest Mine Warfare Exercise in the Gulf

Divers from HMS Quorn are preparing for the biggest minehunting exercise of the year in the Middle East. They will join counterparts from 20 or so nations in May at the second annual IMCMEX, which aims to show how the world’s navies can keep the sea lanes open – and deal with the mine threat.

The sprawling two-week-long exercise – which follows the inaugural IMCMEX (pronounced im-sir-mex) last September – aims to draw the navies and nations of the world together to show how they can collectively deal with the threat of mines and keep the sea lanes open.

The Royal Navy maintains a permanent minehunting force in the Gulf – currently Hunt-class Quorn and Atherstone and Sandowns HMS Ramsey and Shoreham, plus a mothership RFA Cardigan Bay, and a battle staff to direct their operations.

To sustain that constant presence, minehunting crews rotate every six or so months, with Crew 8 currently in charge of Quorn (whose squadron is based in Portsmouth).

With the mid-May ‘workout’ looming, PO(D) Stuart Hibbs is no doubt his lads are up to the challenge of an international exercise in the hot, murky conditions of the Gulf.

“There are some good teams in the Navy but my guys have been at the sharp end of operational tasks for several months and performed to the highest standard.”

Among the most challenging recent mission for Crew 8 was in July last year – in home waters; they were on standby to sail aboard HMS Cattistock when the call came to go to the Moray Firth in Scotland where two RAF Tornadoes had crashed; the crew of one were still unaccounted for.

For the first time, the divers worked side-by-side with their Seafox mini remote-controlled submarine – typically used to identify and destroy mines – to survey the wreck site, with debris spread over a large area, and help with the recovery mission.

Lt Alex Scott, the team leader and also Quorn’s executive officer said;

 “The divers found working in the dark waters at 60-metre depths very difficult due to the limited visibility, so we had to come up with a novel response to the problem,” “The best method of recovery was to allow the Seafox to use its inbuilt sonar and spotlight system to identify the target, before resting the Seafox on the seabed next to the object. Seafox would illuminate the target with its spotlight. The diver would then undertake the recovery while the process was supervised from the ops room using the Seafox’s camera.”

The delicate operation was the first time Seafox and human divers had been used together on a live dive – and tested the limits and skills of the RN’s underwater experts.

AB(D) Geraint Barnes said;

“It was difficult diving with poor visibility and a wide crash site, we knew a lot depended on finding the RAF crewman and the black box.”

Lt Scott added:

“The Moray Firth Tornado incident was difficult for a couple of reasons but we felt we had achieved something for the family and a fellow serviceman.

“It’s a real source of personal and professional pride to lead a dive team like this. The drive, dedication and courage to face the kind of things we deal with on a daily basis makes for a very strong team spirit, which enables us to face challenges with trust and confidence in each other.”

Lt Cdr Simon Kelly, Quorn’s Commanding Officer, nods in agreement.

 “The clearance diving team demonstrate all the values which ensure that the Royal Navy is a world leader in the field of military diving and mine clearance.

They’re an integral part of the crew and they provide me with an essential capability – whether on peace time operations or during conflict. I am proud to be commanding a team of their calibre.”

Naval Today Staff, March 26, 2013; Image: Royal Navy