A four-year tour of duty for a Royal Navy support ship in the Gulf is ending as RFA Cardigan Bay heads back to the UK. The vessel acts as command ship and hub for the UK’s four Bahrain-based minehunters, but also serves as a floating base for specialist dive teams and experts testing automated mine warfare systems, helicopters moving personnel and supplies around the region, and as a ‘petrol station’ and supermarket for the minehunters. Built to support amphibious operations involving Royal Marines, Cardigan Bay has instead proved to be a very useful ‘mother ship’ for not just British minehunters operating in the Middle East, but also those of UK allies and partners.
Her ability to hold enough fuel to fill up multiple ships at a time, as well as approximately 200 tonnes of provisions means that minehunters – which typically have a fairly limited range and endurance due to their size. As a result, she’s been heavily in demand since arriving in theatre in 2017 – the second time in the past decade Cardigan Bay was deployed to the Gulf to support minehunters. She’s taken part in numerous regular MINEXs, large International Maritime Exercises focused on wider security in Middle East waters, and four Khunjar Haad exercises – the principal annual test of Oman’s armed forces to which her allies are invited.
Commodore Ed Ahlgren, the senior Royal Navy officer in the Middle East as UK Maritime Component Commander in Bahrain, said Cardigan Bay had provided “an exceptional service during her four years in theatre.She has demonstrated her versatility in working closely with our Royal Navy units and those of our coalition partners. Her recent contribution to Exercise Artemis Trident 21, where she took on the role of flagship, underlined her impressive capability and stalwart support to the mine counter-measures community.”
Most recently, Cardigan Bay was at the hub of the Anglo-French-US Artemis Trident, run every two years. Beyond the usual minehunting element, exercise directors threw in a series of self-defence tests against air and surface threats, maritime security, force protection and diving operations. RFA Cardigan Bay was critical to the success of the large-scale exercise, transferring fresh water, fuel and stores for Royal Navy and coalition ships as they ‘rafted up’ – berthed – alongside the ship in the middle of the Gulf. Cardigan Bay has now traded places with RFA Lyme Bay – the second time she’s relieved her sister ship on what is “a well-trodden path of maintaining that continuous presence in theatre”.