They may be one of the smallest teams on board, but HMS Dragon’s Royal Marines provide important reassurance to the ship’s company when boarding unfamiliar vessels in the Gulf.
The Type 45 destroyer has nine marines on board, whose job is to step in should any of the ship’s boarding operations turn hostile.
As reported in The News, HMS Dragon is in the Gulf on security patrol.
Her task is to keep the waters safe for marine traffic and keep a lid on piracy in some of the most vital arteries for worldwide energy supply.
A key part of keeping the peace involves conducting alongside assurance visits, where the ship’s crew use their fast sea boat to approach seafarers.
The approaches help them build up a pattern of life out on the seas, and also keeps up the navy’s visible presence in the region.
But the Royal Marines have to be ready to step in should any of the local sailors on board show any malicious intent.
Royal Marine Captain Guy Fillmore says: ‘If there is any doubt the people on board the show won’t do anything they’re asked, then the boarding team are ready.
‘The team would step in for the more hostile encounters at short notice.
‘We are trained to be ready for that and we have to be ready to respond if the teams are met with hostility out there.
‘We train and keep our skills current, and we do all our military training on board, which is obviously quite difficult within the confines of a ship at sea.
‘We do a lot of physical training which again is very important for marines but is also quite hard to do out here.’
The Royal Marines, from 43 Commando, have been keeping up their skills by taking part in regular exercises with the ship’s company and other naval assets in the area.
Recently they have practised boarding unco-operative vessels by fast roping from a Lynx helicopter on to the deck of minehunter HMS Quorn.
Marine Andrew Coan, 25, says: ‘All of our skills are degradable so it’s important to keep the training up.
‘It has been a significant learning experience, working with the Royal Navy, and it’s something we’re going to have to do again because the corps is going to be spending more time at sea now.
‘It is sweaty and humid out here so that does present its challenges but we keep ourselves busy.’
‘EVERYONE STRIVES TO BE THE BEST’
UNUSUALLY, the Royal Marines who make up HMS Dragon’s fleet protection group are not the only commandos on board.
Warrant Officer Dai Charles is HMS Dragon’s executive warrant officer, whose job is to oversee morale and manpower.
It is an unusual role for WO Charles, whose career has seen him serve four tours of Northern Ireland, three tours of Iraq, and three tours of Afghanistan, as Royal Marines are not often found in the post.
‘It is a very enjoyable job,’ he says. ‘So far we have been the only Type 45 to be 100 per cent on everything we have done.
‘Everyone on board strives to be the best at what we do.
‘I joined the ship shortly after she was commissioned and I have found this to be a great ship.
‘Yes the engines are fragile out here but we have done better than the three [Type 45 destroyers] in front of us and I’m sure by the time HMS Duncan comes out, these little bits and pieces will be resolved.’
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
Out on the high seas, there is one universal language which is helping British sailors break down barriers and forge relationships with seafarers — cricket.
Members of HMS Dragon’s boarding team are using their knowledge of the sport to bond with local sailors as they conduct alongside visits in the Gulf.
The Royal Navy sailors often encounter language barriers when speaking with the crews of merchant ships passing through the Middle East.
But cricket is something most nations understand, and is proving effective in helping navy crews build up a rapport with fisherman and merchant sailors alike.
Lieutenant Francis Heritage, 28, from Southsea, is a fighter controller who is also part of the Royal Navy boarding team.
He says: ‘Being British has a massive advantage because we can talk to the crews about cricket, and who their favourite fast bowler is, and things like that.
‘It seems silly but it is a great ice-breaker.
‘When these guys first see us, all they see is the uniform, so they don’t really know what you’re about.
‘When you can talk to them and have a bit of a conversation, it puts everyone at ease.
‘And being able to talk cricket is one of the best ways of doing that.’
The role of the boarding team is to build up a picture of life on the seas of the Gulf, to gather intelligence from the locals, and keep up a security presence in the region.
Lt Heritage adds: ‘Boarding is something I have found very rewarding.
‘We go out to visit local fisherman and seafarers and talk to them and find out what their concerns are and let them know that we are here.
‘Some of them are aware that piracy goes on and we are giving them the knowledge that if they do want help they can call us.’