24 NAVY NEWS, AUGUST 2009
This is the P
HAT links comedian
Jim Davidson, a Miss
PUNCHING through the Red Sea fl anked by her sea boats, HMS
Bikini World contest,
Portland conducts one of her last anti-piracy patrols during six
Sky News, the
months east of Suez. RICHARD HARGREAVES joined the ship
world’s hottest chilli sauce, a
in the Med winding down from piracy... and winding up for
Seawolf fi rings.
manufacturer, and lads’ mag
The answer, of course, is HMS Portland
Then there’s physics to take into account. navies concentrate their efforts; as of late
whose six-month deployment east of Suez
The dhow’s moving forwards under its own June, some twenty vessels were committed
has featured all of the above.
power and side-to-side and up-and-down to the cause.
There’s also been the small matter of 30
courtesy of Nature. The Lynx crew have to So that raises the odds of success
piracy attacks/drug runs halted or prevented,
three fi shermen freed, and a haul of rocket
keep pace with the boat. The guys on the twentyfold. Then again, pirate boats are
ropes have to time their abseil so that there’s small – some are barely 20ft long – their skiffs
launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, pipe
dhow, not ocean, beneath them by the time smaller, their radar cross section minute, if it’s
bombs, rifl es, pistols and ammunition joining
a pirate skiff in Davy Jones’ locker.
they reach the end of the line. Oh yes, they’re picked up at all.
weighed down by their weapons and comms “It’s like looking for a needle in 5,000
Portland was the fi rst ship to receive the
kit, plus 25kg of combat body armour. haystacks,” says Cdr Henry.
RN’s new anti-piracy training package. She’s
All of which explains why it is a ‘turbo
The new display for the 1007 radar can pick
been the fi rst RN ship to carry Royal Marine
hoofi ng’ experience in the words of boarding
up the wake of a skiff – but on radar a pirate
snipers east of Suez (their realm is typically
offi cer Lt Steve Patton.
skiff looks identical to a fi shing skiff. Nothing
anti-drugs patrols in the Caribbean).
And then there’s the pirates or drug runners
beats visual confi rmation.
The piracy busts have bagged Portland
to contend with.
“Once you get closer, you can tell the
her headlines, slots on Sky News… and a
“They’ve seen the helicopters buzzing
difference, but even so you could be a
full page in lads’ mag Zoo (which is normally
around, but they don’t expect anyone to come
fi sherman one day, a pirate the next,” says
preoccupied with scantily, or not-at-all, clad
out of it and on to their boat,” says Lt Patton.
pilot Lt Keith Attwood.
And they didn’t on this occasion – which
When Portland’s in the pirates’ domain, the SIX
But before we get too hung up on things
explains why there were still several tons of
Lynx sits at 15 minutes’ to move. Invariably, if wit
piratical, a few statistics: Portland spent 194
hashish aboard; the typical action of drug
the ship picks up a fl ash, the Lynx is in the air Pir
days east of Suez (including Christmas and
runners (and pirates) is to ditch their cargo
in seven, a pilot and observer in the front, two Th
Easter days at sea). Just 21 of those have been
Royal Marine snipers in the back.
devoted to tackling piracy. By far the bulk of
overboard, “then pretend that they’re just
meagre fi shermen”, the offi cer explains.
“All the time, the fl ight commander is ch
the deployment – 115 days – and its 30-plus
But on other points, the two differ. The
speaking to the merchant ships, telling them So
boardings have been dedicated to strangling
traffi ckers are generally passive and quickly
what to do to fend off the attack, such as the
● Details of the fi re-fi ghting party are meticulously recorded during
terrorist activities (namely drug smuggling).
raise their hands in the air. Pirates, by their
using water hoses,” says Lt Attwood. co
“People often do not understand the scale “Generally speaking, once the helicopter
Where’s the fi re?
of the endeavour,” says Portland’s CO Cdr
nature, have a swagger about them, to say
nothing of a ruthless streak. Fishermen taken
turns up, the pirates break off their attack.” int
Tim Henry. “Piracy has been our most visible
hostage by brigands fear for their lives.
In the six months she’s spent east of Suez, sto
success, but there have been a huge number Portland’s noticed a marked change in the po
of others.” RAPID roping or insertion by sea boat is the attitude of merchant ships to the piracy threat, A
We have rather played down the non- last act in an enormous intelligence gathering
“STOKERS,” one garrulous junior rating assures his shipmates, “don’t
not least that sailors are ’em
piracy chunk of Portland’s deployment, but it operation by air, by sea, by ether.
need air. I can hold my breath for two and a half hours…”
making efforts to defend let
was drug runners, not pirates who provided But a lot of the time it’s down to old-
His uninterested shipmates sup on a coffee or stare at the wall of
their vessels – rather cle
dials, lights and switches in the Ship Control Centre, the engineering
the deployment’s ‘turbo hoofi ng’ moment. fashioned graft, eternal vigilance. The ship’s than rely on the rel
‘mission control’ of HMS Portland.
Hoofi ng is excellent. Turbo takes it to the next Lynx, callsign Osprey, clocked up more than international force
Another bog-standard watch.
level. 300 hours scouring the seas – enough to of warships. st
There’s an occasional bleep, buzz or bong from this item of
When bad weather prevented the sea boats make two dozen return fl ights to New York
machinery or that requiring attention – there are scores of these daily.
putting the RN-RM boarding team on to a (her mother ship has sailed the equivalent of
But then there’s a more jarring noise which makes the dutymen sit
suspicious dhow, ‘insertion by air’ was the nearly twice around the globe).
only option. Atlases really don’t capture the scale
Smoke alarm. Smoke alarm. Smoke alarm. Smoke alarm. Smoke
The Navy News team rather takes rapid of either ‘Pirate Alley’ (a tag beloved by
alarm in the forward machinery room (that’s the forward engine room
roping for granted. We’ve seen it at airshows journalists rather more than the military) or
and Navy Days. The reality is rather more the broader danger area.
The talkative junior rate vanishes down the passage. A couple of
challenging. There is an invisible corridor through the
minutes later it’s his voice over the loudspeaker.
Dhows are perhaps 70ft long and less than Gulf of Aden, roughly 5,000 square miles of
Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire in the forward machinery room.
20ft wide. They rock a lot. There’s not really water, through which merchantmen are
By now the previously-quiet control centre is fi lled with a dozen or
an obvious spot on deck to rope on to. advised to pass. It’s here that the Allied
more fi gures. It’s from here that the fi ght against the fi re is fought. A
couple of sailors rush past the door in fearnought suits.
For the next ten to 15 minutes, the phones never stop ringing, the
loudspeaker rarely dies down as updates on the (fi ctitious) blaze’s
progress fi lters through to control centre. A junior rate scribbles notes
on a damage control board, surrounding the affected compartment
with blue semi-circles – denoting where fi re parties are directing their
jets of water to contain the blaze.
Temperature monitors, er, monitor temperatures on the bulkheads
and deckheads of compartments around the seat of the fi re.
No fi re party will be sent into the ravaged compartment before the
temperature dips below 60ºC. At the moment, it’s 250º.
Five minutes later, it’s up to 300ºC. It’s the blaze’s last hurrah. The
halon gas which neutralises the fi re (it basically eats up all the oxygen
in the compartment) also generates a lot of steam as a by-product…
which raises the temperature briefl y.
After that, however, it plummets. In ten minutes it’s down to 55ºC.
Time to re-take the engine room.
Red fi re hoses snake up and down the main passageway. A black
hose runs away from a valve to one of 35 tubs of foam – it’s the
undiluted version of what comes out of a fi re extinguisher.
When the hoses are turned on at full blast, they get through one
tub of foam a minute. If all 35 go, then you’re dealing with Dante’s
In the senior rates’ dining room sit two dozen or so sailors in
fearnought suits. In teams of ten they will enter the fi re zone, seven
people carrying the heavy, water-fi lled hose, three at the coalface,
tackling the blaze.
Before that, however, there’s a briefi ng and pep talk in the dining
room. A senior rate runs through the layout of the compartment, the
dangers to be faced, what to do – and in what order it should be
It’s left to CO Cdr Tim Henry to steel them for the fi nal assault on
“One day, perhaps, if we are really unlucky, this will happen for
real,” he says. “That’s why we do this – if it is real, there’s very little
“I know you look a bit silly in the kit, but it works. Each one of you
goes into the fi re fully-equipped.”
A ‘dresser’ ensures each member of the fi re party is fully attired –
the breathing masks are on, the protective clothing covering all spare
kit. It’s rather like watching old Nasa footage of Apollo astronauts
being prepped for launch. Here, however, there’s also the lively
honking of horns (rather like a circus) – testing that the very basic but
effective warning signal works – and the breathing apparatus makes
it sound like a Darth Vader convention…
A chef ticks off each member of the fi re party on a board, receiving
yellow dog tags from them.
They shuffl e along the passageway, through the smoke curtain and
bulkhead door, then close it behind them.
Until the fi re is out – or until they need relief – this is the last we
see or hear of them. Once in the fi ery compartment, they are out
of contact with the rest of their shipmates, who have no idea what
progress is (or isn’t) being made.
Water streams down the ladder into the ‘furnace’ – it prevents the
steps melting and protects the fi rst fi re-fi ghter down.
Ten or so minutes later they emerge, remove the masks from faces
glistening with sweat, then collect their dog tags.
I counted them all out and I counted them all back again. (Hmmm, I
think this phrase has been used before – Ed.)
024-025_NN_August.indd 1 22/7/09 15:49:10
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