She may not be the biggest, but Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne is certainly one of the busiest ships in the Royal Navy fleet. Defence correspondent Sam Bannister joins her ship’s company as they patrol our home waters.
It’s early on a Saturday afternoon, and I’m standing in fish guts on a Belgian beam trawler, dressed head to toe in a waterproof immersion suit.
The sunshine is beating down on the small collection of people on the upper deck of the fishing vessel, but what would normally be welcome weather only serves to make the stench of fish even more overwhelming.
Resolute and professional, the team of Royal Navy sailors who have also climbed on board the trawler are going about their duty as I watch — this is their daily workplace.
The sailors are boarding officers from HMS Tyne, the Portsmouth-based patrol ship which polices our home waters.
They are on board to check that the vessel is sticking to the fishing laws designed to protect our nation’s dwindling stocks.
As we lingered somewhere off the coast of Shoreham in West Sussex, the Belgian trawler came into view and presented itself as a candidate for the checks.
The boarding team climbed into the ship’s fast sea boat, and set off for the vessel before climbing up the side on a small ladder and introducing themselves to the skipper.
It’s just one boarding of hundreds which the sailors will carry out this year as they constantly patrol.
Lieutenant Sam Harradine, 31, is taking the lead on this boarding.
He says: ‘The first thing we do is measure the nets as the law says they have to be a certain size.
‘In this case they were absolutely fine, and the skipper clearly ran his operation very well.
‘He knew what he was doing and everything was in order.
‘There are a number of things we have to check to make sure everyone is sticking to the rules.’
The whole process of boarding and checking a fishing vessel can take the Royal Navy team a few hours or just one.
Once the nets have been checked, the sailors inspect the boat’s logbook and documentation to ensure it is licensed and permitted to operate in British waters.
Then the skipper of the vessel must present his electronic records of how many fish of each variety are kept on board.
But making sure the logs are accurate is another matter.
Regulations restrict the amount of fish which can be caught, depending on their type.
So once these first sets of checks have been completed, it’s down to the freezing cold fish room below decks to physically count the fish.
Counting every box of fish in the cavernous storage areas of these vessels would take all day, so the sailors choose boxes at random and count what is inside.
Lt Harradine adds: ‘Again in the case of this Belgian trawler everything is in order.
‘You can tell from the behaviour of those who are working on board that they are clearly professionals who know what they are doing.
‘Obviously this is their livelihoods and we are interrupting their work to do this but it is important and they understand that.
‘We don’t seek to delay them any longer than we have to and once the checks are done and it’s all clear we will get out of their way.’
However, if the boat was found to not be following the law, it would be a different story. The Royal Navy carries out these operations on behalf of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which regulates activities in the sea around England and Wales.
If the boarding team of HMS Tyne discovers a vessel overfishing, the ship contacts the organisation immediately.
Depending on the severity of the violation, the MMO can issue a fine up to thousands of pounds.
They can also have the vessel detained, in which case HMS Tyne would be called upon to escort the vessel to the nearest port for inspection by an MMO team.
Lieutenant John-Paul Fitzgibbon, 31, is the executive officer of HMS Tyne.
He says: ‘This work is absolutely vital because fish stocks are dwindling.
‘We find most of the people we deal with here are courteous and understand what we are doing as long as we’re not interfering with their fishing too much.
‘The ones we do have a problem with are usually the ones who are doing something wrong.’
HMS Tyne’s duties do not end with her role in the Fishery Protection Squadron.
She is, after all, a Royal Navy warship.
So the ship and her crew can also be called upon for maritime security operations and search and rescue.
HMS Tyne has a ship’s company of just 42 and the crew is split into three watches, meaning she can be at sea for more than 330 days a year.
She is one of a quartet of River-Class offshore patrol vessels, three of which were built to safeguard the sustainability of fishing stocks in the UK often operating hundreds of miles off the UK coast.
They are the Fishery Protection Squadron.
The fourth is HMS Clyde and is the Falkland Islands’ Patrol Vessel continuously based there to provide protection to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
Maritime trade is the lifeblood of the UK economy and industry with 95 per cent of Britain’s economic activity depending on the oceans.
And every year Britain imports goods worth £524 billion.
HMS Tyne was built in Woolston Docks, Southampton and is based at Portsmouth.
She is the sixth ship to bear the name Tyne in the Royal Navy.
As reported in The News, one of her most recent engagements was to fire a flare in the English Channel to bring to a close a day of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War.
The solitary flare marked the end of the Lights Out event – encouraging people and institutions across the land to turn every lamp or light off bar one.
Meet the sailors
Lieutenant Rhys Christie
Lt Christie, 22, said: ‘Working on a smaller ship like HMS Tyne is really interesting.
‘It’s interesting to see how the navy works in different ways.
‘It’s the same Royal Navy but in some ways it’s different.
‘I have been on board here for around four months and really enjoyed it so far. Next for me I’ll be going submariner when I have completed my time on Tyne.’
Engineering Technician Sophia Dockerty
ET Dockerty, 24, said: ‘I have been on board Tyne for nine months and love serving on a smaller ship.
‘It’s like a different navy. There is something of a more relaxed atmosphere on board for one thing.
‘Obviously it’s hard work and there is lots to do but everyone gets along and helps each other out when they need to.
‘It’s a good ship.’
Lieutenant Matt Johnson
Lt Johnson, 28, said: ‘I really enjoy my time on board HMS Tyne because it is easy to get things done.
‘Because there is such a small number of people I know every member of the crew and everyone is very clear what is expected of them.
‘Working on a smaller ship is brilliant and I really enjoy it.
‘It’s hard work but very rewarding when you think about the effect we are having.’
To read The News’ view on this click here.