Now on station east of Suez, ready to smite pirates, terrorists and anyone else who might use the sea for criminal purposes is the Fighting Clan: aka HMS Sutherland.
The Devonport-based frigate has relieved her sister Westminster in the Indian Ocean after some final boarding party training in Crete and passage through the Suez Canal.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Ben Sutton, HMS Sutherland
THERE are few more inspiring sights than the White Ensign billowing on the flagstaff of one of Her Majesty’s Ships passing down the great artery between the Near and Middle Easts.
Looking astern from high up on the main mast, this is HMS Sutherland after sailing beneath the 404m (1,325ft) span of the Suez Canal Bridge (also known as the Friendship Bridge) which binds Africa with Asia – the second time in little over a year that the ship has passed down the man-made waterway.
Four weeks after departing her native Plymouth, the Fighting Clan – a nickname honouring her Scottish heritage – has arrived in her operational theatre. She’ll spend the rest of 2012 smiting pirates, smugglers, people traffickers, terrorists – anyone who might try to use the Indian Ocean and surrounding waters for illegal purposes.
The month’s passage to the Red Sea has been peppered with training for the Type 23 frigate: gunnery off Gibraltar, final sensor checks and boarding team exercises in Souda Bay, Crete.
The NATO base on the Mediterranean island is home to FORACS (FORces sensors and weapons Accuracy Check Site) which tests the myriad of sensors, communications, radars and sonars to ensure they’re in full working order, allowing NATO ships to pass crucial information to each other accurately.
Sutherland's boarding team exercise with simunition guns in Crete
It’s also home to the Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre, whose pièce de resistance is a former Hellenic Navy training ship, the Aris, now used to allow visiting ship’s companies to hone their board and search skills.
Sutherland’s RN and Royal Marines boarding team took their training to the next level courtesy of ‘simunition’ – simulated ammunition, which possesses most of the characteristics of the real thing, minus the blood – with vessel clearance drills and practising approaching pirate vessels.
The simunition guns – characterised by their distinctive blue colour – might look like toys, but the intensive three-day course the boarders were put through, says Lt Sam Perrins, Sutherland’s lead boarding officer, “confident that they can deal with whatever lies ahead”.
While the boarding team were reaching their peak, Lt Earl Kingston was passing a metaphorical milestone in the skies north of Crete.
Lt Earl Kingston with his '2,000 hour' celebratory cake (he didn't eat all of it himself...)
Lt Kingston is one of two pilots of Sutherland’s Merlin from 829 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose.
By the time he’d brought the Navy’s No.1 submarine hunting helicopter back to the deck of the frigate
a) he’d passed through the 2,000 flying hours barrier;
b) his shipmates had a huge chocolate cake waiting for him;
c) and a bottle of bubbly;
d) and some fire hoses, whose nozzles were promptly directed at the pilot.
His 2,000 hours of flight (that’s nearly 12 whole weeks airborne) were amassed inter alia via three years teaching as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor and time as a Merlin display pilot.
“Reaching 2000 hours is a major milestone in any aircrew’s career, and I was fortunate to be able to conduct mine flying around the island of Crete,” said Earl.
“It was a shock to see how many people were hiding behind the hangar door on return to celebrate this moment, and how much trouble everybody had gone to with the celebrations. Either that or they just wanted to see me take the ritual soaking!”
Father and son CPO Sean and Mne Nicholas Pinniger (dad is on Westminster, his son aboard Sutherland) meet up briefly on Sutherland's forecastle
There was no fire hose shower for Mne Nicholas Pinniger – luckily – for he was celebrating owning a brand-new iPad.
The gift for the green beret, one of the small commando detachment aboard Sutherland, came courtesy of his dad…who handed over the present in person.
Dad – CPO(AET) Sean Pinniger – is Portsmouth-bound, having completed his lengthy stint with Sutherland’s sister HMS Westminster.
Father and son met up briefly as the two frigates traded places on maritime security duties. Such a handover between RN vessels typically involves an exchange of hi-tech bespoke equipment required for an east of Suez deployment.