BRITAIN’S seas will be safer and more secure with the next batch of the Royal Navy’s new patrol ships, a top officer has said.
Commander Sarah Oakley is in charge of the navy’s fishery protection squadron based in Portsmouth.
The group – which is in the middle of a major overhaul – is charged with enforcing strict maritime rules as well as providing a tighter net of security for the UK’s coastal waters.
And as the navy prepares to welcome the newest generation of River-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to the fleet, Cdr Oakley has said their bigger size and enhanced capability will bolster the UK’s ability to not only defend Britain’s borders in a post-Brexit landscape, but extend its global reach.
Speaking to The News, the fisheries squadron boss said: ‘Fisheries protection is a really important role but my ships are going to be doing more.
‘We’re going to have more ships with a greater capability.
‘As part of the move into the carrier strike era my ships are going to be freeing up the other escorts to go and escort the carrier strike group whereas my ships will be independently tasked, mainly in the UK but also around the Falklands and possibly in the Mediterranean and the west coast of Africa – independent, capacity-building, constabulary duties.’
Asked whether this would mean the force would be busier in the coming years, Cdr Oakley said: ‘Absolutely, the fishery protection squadron is just a name.
‘These ships do an awful lot more than that. Our main task is constabulary duties around the UK which includes fishery protection and maritime security tasking. It includes working with the special forces, training roles for the Royal Navy.
‘But actually we’re going to be doing that and more. These ships have been in the Caribbean doing diplomacy work and counter-narcotics work.
‘There are lots of options. What’s so great about the new ships is that they will give us even more options.’
The five new vessels will include a modified flight deck capable of operating the latest Merlin helicopters, larger stores and more accommodation for embarked troops.
They will also operate with a larger ship’s company than the current fleet of OPVs, with about 60 sailors able to operate on her compared to about 45 in the older ships.
And they pack more of a punch; they’re four knots faster, carry a 30mm, not 20mm main gun, two miniguns, four machine-guns, two Pacific 24 sea boats and can take up to 50 troops/Royal Marines to missions ashore.
It is expected that HMS Forth, the first of the 2,200-tonne, 90m-long warships, will enter service later this year.
This will be followed by sister ships HMS Trent, HMS Medway, HMS Tamar and HMS Spey.
Last week, the first of the older River-class OPVs, HMS Severn, was decommissioned after 14 years of service.
It is expected Severn’s sister ships will remain in service until 2019.