A NAVAL officer from Portsmouth has told of his pride in his crew after they were scrambled to intercept two Russian warships.
Patrol ship HMS Tyne shadowed the military vessels for 500 miles when they entered the Channel.
The Portsmouth-based warship escorted the Ropucha-class landing vessels, Minsk and Alexander Shabalin, tracking them with sophisticated navigation technology, as reported last week.
Both Russian warships are used to move military cargo from naval bases in the north, to those in the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
Minsk was on her way back to northern European waters and Tyne was on a fishery protection patrol of the North Sea when she was alerted to the Russian ship approaching the UK last week.
She sailed at top speed for nearly 500 miles to the gateway to the Channel where her bridge team used its state-of-the-art navigation software and radars to locate the foreign transporter.
I am incredibly proud of the way our ship’s company reacted to this rapid activation – and with the professionalism they showed in this escort dutyLieutenant Craig Clark
The crew then followed her progress through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes until she was safely out of British waters.
The incident came just weeks after Tyne accompanied Minsk’s sister ship Alexander Shabalin as it headed in the opposite direction, bound for the Mediterranean.
The Ropucha-class ships can carry 10 tanks and nearly 350 troops – or a cargo of up to 500 tonnes – at a top speed of 17.5 knots. They are armed with two twin 57mm guns.
Lieutenant Craig Clark is Tyne’s second-in-command and works as the ship’s executive officer.
He said: ‘I’m incredibly proud of the way our ship’s company reacted to this rapid activation – and with the professionalism they showed in this escort duty.’
Defence expert Ian Millen is the head of Dryad Maritime in Portsmouth.
The ex-naval Commander, who served during the Cold War, said there was nothing sinister or threatening in the Russians’ actions and that the country’s warships routinely pass the UK en route to the Mediterranean and the Gulf.
‘The English Channel is a busy, international shipping route, with freedom of navigation for all on innocent passage through it,’ he said.
‘There is nothing remarkable about Russian ships making such transits, especially to and from the Baltic Sea, just as there is nothing unusual in Royal Navy vessels letting them know that we know they are there.’
He said the ships were using the Channel as it was the ‘shortest route’ to and from the Mediterranean.
Mr Millen added: ‘Despite some sensational newspaper headlines, these transits are almost certainly routine, logistic voyages that are, unsurprisingly, taking the shortest route.
‘The fact that HMS Tyne, a fishery protection vessel, was “scrambled” to escort these vessels twice in a month, reflects the benign nature of these transits and the availability of Royal Navy assets to engage in this routine “cat and mouse” game we’ve been playing for so many years.’