HMS Dragon helps ensure security and stability

HMS Dragon shadows a container ship ''Picture: L(Phot) Dave Jenkins
HMS Dragon shadows a container ship ''Picture: L(Phot) Dave Jenkins
British military dog Mali who has received the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross with his current handler Corporal Daniel Hatley

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Not many of us stop and think about where our clothes come from, or the electronic goods we buy in the high street.

How often do you look at the labels hidden within the folds of a shirt or a skirt and read where it was made?

That knowledge of where things originate in the world becomes even more difficult when it comes down to items that don’t come with an informative label attached – things like petrol and gas.

Last year alone, the UK imported more than £400m worth of crude oil from the Middle East.

In the same year, almost 30 per cent of our gas imports came by sea, and 97 per cent of that came from Qatar and Egypt.

Most, if not all, of that energy supply will pass through some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, including three narrow channels where ships are most at risk of piracy and crime on the seas.

But who polices those crucial chokepoints and keeps energy flowing around the world?

Effectively, we do.

As reported in The News, Portsmouth-based HMS Dragon is patrolling the waters of the Gulf in a bid to stamp out piracy and crime in one of the world’s most vital arteries for oil, gas, and 
goods.

The Royal Navy has kept up a presence in the Middle East for decades, but its enduring nature means it tends to make fewer headlines than our nation’s interventions elsewhere.

Commodore Simon Ancona is the deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) in the Middle East.

The CMF — which with its 29 member nations is the largest naval partnership in the world — is the organisation which sets out to keep those energy arteries open.

‘This region is a hugely important and significant one,’ Cdre Ancona tells The News.

‘One of the reasons behind that is that we live in a global village – everything is interconnected now.

‘In terms of security and stability, it would be disastrous for us if this part of the world were to tumble into instability, or provide a foothold for those that would do the west harm.

‘It is important we are here and the UK has made that absolutely clear.’

A major part of the work of the CMF is developing the involvement of nations local to the Gulf.

Cdre Ancona added: ‘I don’t promote the idea of a hierarchy [within the CMF], but that said, the Royal Navy is well placed to provide stability because we have been at it a long time and we have history in this part of the world.

‘No-one can do it alone which is why it’s all about understanding how we can work together.’

Maritime security in the Gulf is vital, not just for the stability of the Middle East, but to the global economy.

In a typical week, more than 500 ships will pass through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the three major chokepoints alongside the Suez Canal and the Bab-el-Mandeb.

Around 300 of them are energy carriers, bringing 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne traded oil.

Nearly 1bn tonnes of trade passed through the Suez Canal in 2012, from food and clothes to raw materials and oil.

On top of that, the UK exports £15bn worth of goods and services to the Gulf each year.

Piracy cost the international economy almost £4bn in 2012, which is £650m from 2011.

But the efforts of the maritime community in fighting piracy are clearly working.

There has not been a single hijacked vessel in more than a year.

The Royal Navy lists seven main aims of its presence in the Middle East — disrupting piracy, preventing terrorism, surveying waterways, developing expertise, supporting merchant shipping, promoting UK interests, and preparing for contingencies.

As far as Portsmouth-based HMS Dragon is concerned, her ship’s company have been called upon to step up to all of these tasks, and then some.

Cdre Ancona says the crew have delivered nothing but excellence throughout their deployment.

‘I think it’s been outstanding,’ he says.

‘These are long, arduous deployments at extremely high states of readiness requiring the ships to be ready for almost anything.

‘They have surpassed what we have expected of them.

‘We expect excellence and deliver it.’

The source of modern-day piracy in the Middle East has been traced to the failed state of Somalia, a product of the social and political conflict that has gripped the nation since the 1990s.

If the scourge of hijackings is to be eradicated forever, there needs to be security and stability in the country where most piracy emanates from.

But the responsibility for such change lies with governments and diplomats — the navy’s role is purely to deal with the consequences.