Skip to main content



15 Dec 2023

Royal Navy pilots swoop on seized vessel during intensive training in Portugal

Royal Navy pilots swoop on seized vessel during intensive training in Portugal
UK MOD ' Crown copyright 2023
Royal Navy Press Release

Royal Navy and Portuguese helicopters swooped on a vessel seized by armed assailants during an intensive training scenario off the coast of Portugal.

The fliers of 846 Naval Air Squadron and the Portuguese 751 Squadron put into action weeks of work on tactics and procedures as they took back a Portuguese patrol ship from armed stowaways.

The Merlin helicopters carried out an assault, as troops fast roped onto the deck, rescued hostages and took back control of the ship in training designed to enhance the ability of the two NATO allies to carry out of these vital operations.

“It was great training in a new environment that really showed what is possible when specialists work together to achieve joint operations,” said Lieutenant Commander David Houghton-Barnes, from M-Flight, the boarding operations – known as Maritime Interdiction – experts of 846 Naval Air Squadron.

The boarding in the Atlantic Ocean was part of significant joint training alongside the Portuguese 751 Squadron, who also fly the Merlin helicopter – which the Royal Navy deploys widely across the globe.

846 and 845 Naval Air Squadron of Yeovilton-based Commando Helicopter Force use the Commando Merlin variant of the aircraft to carry Royal Marines into operations wherever they’re needed, in all extremes of environment.

The three-week deployment of 120 members of 846 to Montijo Airbase, across the Tagus Rover from capital Lisbon, also saw student aircrew and pilots challenged across Portugal’s skies, the crowning moment of five years of toil to qualify and ‘earn their wings’ ahead of going on front-line duties.

The journey itself to Portugal, more than 1,300 miles through Spain and France, was a test of critical planning for student aircrew and engineers to ensure they had correctly calculated the fuel needed to carry all personnel and equipment for the long flights between airfields.

Once at Montijo Airbase, the Merlins flew a range of missions – from dropping troops into action, carrying underslung loads and simulating hostile engagements. A notable step up in intensity work in the UK.

Captain Jon Sutton RM said: “It has been a challenging culmination of many years of rotary training and a big step up from training sorties at Yeovilton. 
“A personal highlight has been working with Portuguese Forces to conduct aviation assaults. 

“Carrying troops has really sharpened everyone’s focus and it’s great to fly around fellow Commandos.”

Engineer, Petty Officer Paul Rendle, added: “Our time in Portugal is incredibly beneficial for us engineers. 

“It really helps enhance our problem-solving skills, operating in a foreign environment much different to Yeovilton. 

“As well as building a relationship with the Portuguese Air force it enhances crucial team building skills for the whole squadron.”

This deployment builds on work in the summer together and further built the ability of the UK and Portuguese squadrons to operate together. 

Commanding Officer of 846 NAS, Commander James Coleman, said: "Our partnership with 751 Squadron is a testament to the shared commitment to excellence and the pursuit of the highest standards in naval aviation training. 

“This experience is invaluable for our students, engineers and supporting elements; broadening our ability to deploy whilst enhancing the interoperability of our respective forces; and sharpening our ability to fight and win.”


View all News