Four hundred million tonnes of cargo – fuel, food, vehicles, white goods – have been safely transported thanks to a Royal Navy-led operation in the Gulf. Over the past four months the international Operation Sentinel task group has ensured nearly 1,000 merchant ships sailed safely through two hot spots without incident. The naval force – which at times has included the Royal Navy’s Gulf-based frigate HMS Montrose as well as the former HMS Clyde, now serving with the Bahraini Navy – has been directed since March by Commodore Adrian Fryer and his international staff.
He’s now handed over tenure of the mission, which is run from Bahrain, to fellow Royal Navy officer Commodore Gordon Ruddock. The Sentinel task force and staff are chiefly responsible for the safe passage of shipping through two key narrows or ‘choke points’: the Bab al Mandeb (commonly referred to as the BAM by mariners) at the foot of the Red Sea and Strait of Hormuz. Around 50 ships a day pass through the BAM, 115 sail into and out of the Gulf every 24 hours: tankers, gas carriers, container ships, car carriers.
Should either become blocked or unsafe for merchant shipping the impact on the UK alone – which relies on regular supplies of liquid natural gas from the Gulf for example, while this spring’s accidental blockage of the Suez Canal cost global trade more than £280m per hour, or £6bn per day. The task group has kept an eye on 960 merchant ships which fly the flag of the nations committed to Operation Sentinel’s parent body, the International Maritime Security Construct: UK, US, Albania, Bahrain, Estonia, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Those 960 ships have passed safely through both straits, carrying 400 million tonnes of cargo – slightly less than the total amount of cargo passing through UK ports every year – to their destination as a result. As well as watching over shipping directly, the task force sends out around 2,500 radio messages every month providing the latest updates and warnings about potential dangers as well as reassurance, and the participating ships conduct a series of regular exercises and combined training to remain at the top of their game.