Sailors aboard the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo have conducted day and night-time gunnery practice off the Horn of Africa. The Devonport-based hydrographic ship is on a lengthy mission to improve understanding and charts of the waters east of Suez.
Although not HMS Echo’s primary role, gunnery practice is a key element of the ship’s ability to defend herself – particularly in a high-risk piracy area.
The ship is equipped with a couple of 20 mm cannon, two miniguns as well as four general purpose .50 calibre machineguns. In addition to the ship’s company, Echo also has a small, specialist Royal Navy force protection team.
Lieutenant Rich Watsham, Echo’s oceanographic and meteorological officer – and also her gunnery officer – directs regular exercises to maintain the effectiveness of the men and women under his charge.
“It is important for HMS Echo to maintain a high degree of readiness; we achieve this by regularly training our force protection team and organic ship’s company weapon aimers to react to varying types of threat, any time of the day or night,” he said.
Recent gunnery exercises have included night shoots and several practices against free floating targets, designed to allow gunners on all types of weapon to practice against a real target.
The crew also conducted several small arms shoots at sea to ensure that it is ready to protect the 3,500-ton vessel should the need arise.
AB(HM) Melissa Minion, normally responsible for the operation of the ship’s high definition multi-beam echo sounder, doubles as a 20mm cannon aimer.
“Gunnery is certainly one of the highlights of my role on board. There aren’t many people who get the chance to shoot a 20mm cannon as part of their day job!” she said.
Echo has been away from home since January last year – rotating one third of her ship’s company of 72 and maintenance in foreign ports means she can be sustained far from her Devonport home for extended periods; she is expected to be at sea for at least 320 days a year. Echo is scheduled to return to the UK later this year.
Earlier this year Echo visited the Seychelles and conducted training with the island nation’s Coast Guard, which has been working with the Royal Navy to prevent piracy in the Indian Ocean. The ship in February this year hosted nine personnel on board, a mixture of officers and ratings from the Seychelles Coast Guard, who spent the day learning how to fight fires alongside Navy personnel.
HMS Echo was build by Appledore Shipbuilders in Devon in 2002. She is designed to conduct survey operations in support of submarines or amphibious operations. She can provide almost real-time tailored environmental information, and also has a secondary role as a Mine Countermeasure Tasking Authority platform, for which she is capable of embarking a dedicated Mine Counter Measures command team.