Pacific patrol ships begin third year deployed broadening their mission
HMS Tamar and Spey’s programme until the end of 2023 continues to expand the effectiveness and utility of the Royal Navy’s Offshore Patrol Ships, deployed around the globe in key regions.
It’s two years since the two sister ships left their home base of Portsmouth to re-establish a permanent Royal Navy presence in the Indo-Pacific – the first time since the return of Hong Kong a quarter of a century ago.
HMS Tamar is spending the autumn – spring in the Southern Hemisphere – in and around Australia and Oceania, while Spey will be concentrating her efforts around Central and East Asia.
HMS Spey has already become the first British warship to visit Timor-Leste (previously known as East Timor before gaining its independence two decades ago) and is continuing to head north for one of the largest international military exercises staged in South East Asia, Sama-Sama. Jointly hosted by the Philippines and United States Navies, with invitations extended to allied nations with a vested interest in security. Spey took part in the 2022 iteration and returns this year alongside Australia, France, Japan with the collective goal of improving regional security, naval partnerships and the collective ability of sailors and marines from different nations, speaking different languages, and operating different equipment to operate side-by-side as seamlessly as possible.
Meanwhile, HMS Tamar is playing a pivotal role alongside the Royal Australian and US Navies in an exercise focusing on ‘seabed warfare’, using a combination of divers and autonomous underwater vehicles to conduct mine countermeasure operations, and monitor critical infrastructure such as pipelines and communication cables.
Tamar will nearly double the size of her crew when she embarks a teams of divers and underwater vehicle operators for the exercise – highlighting the ‘plug and play’ modular design of the River-class ships which have been designed to ‘bolt-on’ new capabilities as they become necessary – drones, divers, autonomous systems, disaster relief stores – depending on the mission they are conducting.
“The seabed warfare exercise is an exciting opportunity for Tamar and will be our largest embarkation of equipment and mission operators to date,” said Commanding Officer Commander Teilo Elliot-Smith.
“It is a real test of the platform’s modular design. It is not just about the ship being able to embark a capability, we have an entire operating concept to develop with lessons learnt by the Ship, and the teams coming onboard, being incorporated into future ships such as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, so that the Navy can operate more dynamically and efficiently in the future.”
The joint deployment has allowed the UK to re-establish its naval presence in a part of the world which is growing in importance for our security and prosperity.
After leaving Portsmouth in September 2021, the two ships arrived in the western Pacific at the beginning of 2022.
Collectively they have visited with more than two dozen nations large and small from India in the west, Japan in the north, New Zealand in the south, and the Pitcairn Islands to the east, covering more than 120,000 nautical miles in the process... enough to sail three times around the globe.
The ships have provided aid in the wake of natural disasters, supported environment efforts such as tackling illegal fishing, monitored water quality, helped update seafaring charts, exercised with a string of navies and enforcement authorities, flown the flag for the UK and made a lot of new friends.
And it has allowed the sailors of the two ships – about 50 souls on each, with half trading places with colleagues flown out for the UK roughly every four weeks – to experience parts of the world few Britons have seen, alongside more familiar, but still distant destinations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Diego Garcia, and Australia.
“In the past two years, Tamar and Spey have truly lived the old adage of ‘Join the Navy and see the world’,” said Spey’s Navigator Lieutenant Sam Williams.
“Between us we have sailed across three quarters of the globe, and routinely patrol over half of it, visiting some amazing places on the way. The political and diplomatic effect that these ships have around the world is astonishing and the opportunities this permanent deployment offers, from the most junior sailors to the command team alike, is unrivalled.”
Lieutenant Commander Matt Millyard – who’s been both Executive Officer of HMS Tamar and now is Spey’s temporary Commanding Officer – added: “It’s been an incredible two years so far and we’ve achieved so much. From operations monitoring oil imports to North Korea, patrolling the vast sea areas of the South Pacific for illegal fishing, and delivering Covid vaccines to the Pitcain Islands, to visiting some of the most beautiful places on earth: from Diego Garcia for its incredible beaches; to the Islands of Palau for untouched beauty and crystal-clear waters; or Japan and Korea for a cultural experience unlike anywhere else.
“The future for Tamar and Spey in the Indo-Pacific remains just as exciting as the past two years.”