Royal Navy warship HMS Lancaster knuckles down to new mission in Gulf
HMS Lancaster has worked with two task forces in the Middle East to ensure lawful seafarers enjoy safe passage – and clamp down on illicit activities, notably drugs smuggling.
The frigate left the UK in August and after a stint with NATO in the Mediterranean, began her three-year mission east of Suez, taking over from her sister ship HMS Montrose.
Side-by-side with US Navy patrol ships, Lancaster operated in the Strait of Hormuz – the narrow gateway at the edge of the Gulf – working with the International Maritime Security Construct’s Sentinel Task Force to ensure the safe movement of merchant traffic.
The ship then headed out into the Gulf of Oman to work for a second international force, the Combined Maritime Forces, dedicated to deterring and stopping criminal/terrorist activity.
Lancaster intercepted one suspect dhow, but a concerted search by her Royal Marines and sailors did not result in a ‘find’.
The frigate’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Irving, says despite the lack of a haul, HMS Lancaster nevertheless “made a visible contribution to the coalition effort to prevent smuggling throughout the region” through her presence and actions.
He continued: “We’ve made a great start to our first deployment in Lancaster. Over the coming months we will continue getting to grips with our new ship, ensuring that the ship stands ready to reassure and protect our allies and partners, and to deter illicit activity at sea throughout the region.”
He and the 200 men and women crew previously operated HMS Montrose in these same waters and took charge of Lancaster in December, relieving the crew who brought the frigate to the Gulf.
One crew spend four months on operations, while a second crew back in the UK enjoys leave and undertakes training.
When a crew prepare to return to the Gulf, they conduct a variety of individual and collective training activities – firefighting, damage control and tactical war-fighting scenarios are all played out in simulators in the UK.
And once the handover has been completed on board Lancaster, there’s a two-week package of live training led by the RN’s principal training team, FOST, who ensure that the incoming crew remains ready to conduct any operation.
The training period is an intense assessment of everything that Lancaster’s sailors and Royal Marines Boarding Team might encounter: from someone falling overboard, through to successfully conducting a counter-narcotics boarding and testing contingency war-fighting capabilities.
“Throughout these challenges, the crew displayed a brilliant attitude, living up to HMS Lancaster’s motto: ‘Difficulties Be Damned’, to keep going and keep winning despite the lack of sleep,” said Lieutenant Commander Jason ‘Jonah’ Jones, in charge of the crew’s Weapons Engineering department – responsible for all weapons systems and sensors.
Reward for the hard work by the 200 person crew aboard was a dip in the Arabian Sea. Even in December, the water temperature in the Gulf of Oman is at least 20 Celsius and a depth of more than 3,000 metres didn’t deter the ship’s company from leaping, flipping or flopping into the sea for a traditional hands to bathe.
Having been at sea for Christmas Day – a festive workout on the flight deck, turkey dinner served by the officers, phone calls home to loved ones and Yuletide fare on the TV in the mess decks – New Year was enjoyed alongside in Dubai.
Thanks to her berth alongside in Dubai, Lancaster’s flight deck offered some of the best seats in the house for watching the emirate’s spectacular firework displays to welcome 2023, while the frigate joined other ships in harbour in blasting their sirens on the stroke of midnight in celebration.