Sending Royal Navy survey ship to Ukraine is ‘not a clever idea’, says former First Sea Lord 

HMS Duncan pictured as she takes part in her latest deployment in the Black Sea.'NATO photo by GBRN LPhot Paul Hall
HMS Duncan pictured as she takes part in her latest deployment in the Black Sea.'NATO photo by GBRN LPhot Paul Hall

DEPLOYING a Royal Navy survey ship to Ukraine as ‘things are hotting up’ with Russia is ‘not a clever idea’, Britain’s former top sailor has warned.

Admiral Lord Alan West has hit out at the move announced by the defence secretary Gavin Williamson to base HMS Echo in the Black Sea.

Lord West, who was the First Sea Lord for four years, said it would be better to deploy a Type 45 destroyer from Portsmouth, which would be ‘able to look after itself’.

He was speaking amid international condemnation of Russia after it seized Ukrainian ships and their crew off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

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The Ukrainian Navy claimed six of its sailors were wounded when Russian coast guards opened fire late on Sunday on three Ukrainian warships near the Kerch Strait.

Russia claims it was provoked into the action after the Ukrainian ships ventured into its territorial waters.

The attack came as worrying footage was revealed showing the moment Portsmouth warship HMS Duncan was swarmed by 17 Russian jets while leading a Nato task forces into the Black Sea.

The incident took place earlier this year and was captured by a Channel 5 documentary team, who were embarked on the Type 45 destroyer.

Following the latest seaborne clash in the region, Lord West told the House of Lords: ‘The minister will be aware that it has been stated that we are sending a warship to Black Sea.

‘That warship as I understand it is actually a survey ship.

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‘If things are hotting up in the Black Sea to send a ship in harm's way that is not really capable of looking after itself is not a clever idea.

‘Should this [not be] reviewed and perhaps we should send a ship like the [Type] 45 that is able to look after itself in these circumstances.’

Tory frontbencher Baroness Goldie said: ‘I am very reluctant to comment on specific operational matters.

‘The MoD response to such situations is carefully assessed, carefully reviewed, and any decision to deploy our ships would only be made after the most careful assessment of all the circumstances.’

Mr Williamson has previously announced he would commit to more troops in Ukraine, as well as sending out HMS Echo, a hydrographic survey ship based in Plymouth, to the Black Sea.

The incident involving HMS Duncan was took place just 30 miles from the coast of Crimea.

It was the closest any Nato warship had been to the peninsula since it was annexed by Russia four years ago.

Commodore Mike Utley, who was leading the Nato task force from Duncan earlier this year, was taken aback by the display of aerial aggression by Russian towards the £1bn destroyer and her 280-strong crew.

He said: ‘HMS Duncan is probably the only maritime asset that has seen a raid of that magnitude in the last 25 years.’