Royal Navy ship drives Gaddafi’s gunboats back to port

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The HMS Liverpool on patrol in the Mediterranean has thwarted an attempt by four Libyan boats to disrupt the sea lanes in the Gulf of Sirte.

NATO forces spotted three rigid inflatable boats and one small craft leaving Zliten harbour – which is in Libyan government hands. The Royal Navy’s HMS Liverpool was sent in to investigate.

She identified that personnel were being transferred between the four craft, which were tracked a few miles west of the besieged city of Misrata. Land and naval forces loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi have made repeated attempts to take Misrata and block its port, and in the past have laid mines in the waters off the harbour.

Concerned the four boats may have posed a threat to the civilian population, the destroyer went to action stations and closed in on the boats, warning them to return to port. After no response was received from the craft, HMS Liverpool used her 4.5-inch gun to fire a warning shot, which landed to the east of the contacts.

One rigid inflatable boat returned to port, but the three remaining craft remained. A salvo of three more warning shots prompted the other boats to head back to Zliten.
“Through the reading of warnings, we were able to give pro-Gaddafi forces the opportunity to return to their base port,” said HMS Liverpool’s Commanding Officer, Commander Colin Williams. “It shows that they can be kept at bay by a responsible show of force, without unnecessary violence.”

It’s the second time the 4.5-inch gun has been fired in anger by HMS Liverpool. Last month she was fired on with rockets in the same area and again returned fire with her gun – which has a range of more than 12 nautical miles (22 km).

HMS Liverpool left Portsmouth on March 29 and relieved the Type 22 frigate HMS Cumberland on April 8. Her key role in Operation Unified Protector, as a member of the NATO Task Group, is enforcing embargo operations along the Libyan coast. She operates alongside the Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Westminster.

British aircraft and navy ships are playing a leading role in striking at Gaddafi’s forces. Britain has already committed the HMS Liverpool and minehunter HMS Brocklesby to the Libyan mission; and last month sent the Navy’s HMS Ocean amphibious assault ship to the region. The latter carries British Army Apaches, which have launched numerous attacks against pro-Gaddafi forces.

At the beginning of last month, five Royal Navy ships broken off from long-planned exercises in the Mediterranean and joined 20 Allied warships already enforcing the blockade and supporting the no-fly zone over Libya.

The Royal Navy flagship HMS Albion, escorting frigate HMS Sutherland, tanker RFA Wave Knight and support ship RFA Fort Rosalie, were ordered to waters off Libya in support of the NATO-led/UN-endorsed operation.

Since the start of military operations to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army Air Corps assets have attacked over 400 targets in Libya that were deemed to be persecuting or involved in persecuting the civilian population.