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Royal Navy supports maritime security on West African coast

HMS Portland in Cape Town.The Royal Navy (RN) Type 23 anti-submarine frigate HMS Portland arrived in Cape Town last Friday, having spent three months undertaking maritime security activities off the coast of West Africa.

The Devonport based warship deployed on 13 January 2014 for a routine seven month Atlantic Patrol Tasking. After heading south, most of this time has been spent in West African waters until this week when she headed south again for South Africa.

Commander Sarah West, Commanding Officer of HMS Portland and the first female Commander of a British Royal Navy ship, said that throughout the deployment, they will undertake maritime security operations, including counter narcotics and anti-piracy patrols. This will provide opportunities for the RN to work with other navies to strengthen ties and demonstrate the Royal Navy’s commitment to the region.

“In West Africa, we promoted the need for shared regional responsibility backed by international support, to combat maritime crime, build capacity and develop marine resources,” West said on the ship’s arrival at Table Bay Harbour.

Although Portland did not come across any pirate activity itself, its activity off the African West coast was an important physical deterrent.

All ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages are required to be fitted with an Automatic Identification System (AIS). This is an automatic tracking system that electronically sends information on the ships name, cargo, route and other details.

One of the tasks engaged in by Porltand was to investigate and question any ship that was not identifying itself via AIS.

West said: “In the Gulf of Guinea, we found that that was an anti-piracy measure. They were switching off their systems because they felt unsafe and therefore we were in a position to reassure them that we were operating in the area.”

“For others,” West continued, “we came across factory fishing ships that we believed were fishing illegally and said that their systems had broken, so we reported them to the local forces so that they could take appropriate action because we are not in a position to do so.”

“We also came across a few merchant vessels who, for reasons best known to themselves, on passage decided to switch it (the AIS) off as well,” West added, “we report all things like that.”

West said that the word definitely got out because vessels in some of the countries they visited knew they were coming as they’d already heard on the grapevine that they were patrolling and questioning ships.

Besides actual patrol, Portland also interacted with the armed forces of the West African countries they visited. Many of these countries concentrate on illegal activities on the land side, thus pushing the illegal operations onto the seaward side.

West noted that operations should be conducted on both land and at sea, taking away the incentive for the illegal activities, including piracy, narcotics, people smuggling and illegal fishing.

“A lot of countries on the West Coast are losing incomes to their economies because of what is happening in their waters,” West said.

Continuing, she said that “not many navies on the (West) coast actually patrol their waters, let alone their economic zones and so we were spending a lot of time making sure that people were aware of what they can do to counter that.”

“Our presence is a deterrent and a statement of support of the UK’s support for the region,” West said, “and the shared vision to successfully police the waters, and that is anything from piracy to illegal fishing.”

Commissioned into the RN on 3 May 2001, Portland was upgraded in 2012, making her a versatile and capable platform which operates globally and undertakes a wide range of roles.

Following a two-week maintenance period at Naval Base Simon’s Town, Portland will continue her patrol in the south Atlantic.
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