THE former head of the Royal Navy has said the crisis in Yemen highlights the need for a maritime force in the face of defence cuts.
Admiral Lord Alan West said no other armed force would be suitable for carrying out evacuations.
It comes after reports that Royal Marines could be sent into Yemen to help evacuate British nationals.
Eighty marines are thought to be aboard naval support ship RFA Fort Victoria close to the Arab state.
And RFA Cardigan Bay could soon be joining them to provide support.
The 16,000-tonne auxiliary landing vessel returned to Portsmouth in January after a three-year deployment to the Persian Gulf.
It has been reported the ship will replace RFA Argus, which has been operating nearby.
Lord West said: ‘You need a maritime force if you are going to do things like this around the world.
‘By their nature they are expeditionary; you can’t do it with any other force.
‘If you’ve got aeroplanes they have got to land and if you’ve got soldiers they have to swim. I don’t know the details of what’s happening operationally. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if we have put something there.
‘The benefit is you can put things there quite easily without anybody knowing.
‘You can move them there and nobody need know at all.
‘If I was running naval operations I would have the ship there. The alternative is to have aircraft come in and set up an airfield which would be more difficult.
‘That’s why maritime is so important.’
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman confirmed British military assets were in the region but refused to say which or comment on their exact task.
Yemen has been hit by months of violence and political instability.
The country’s president since 1978, Ali Abdullah Saleh, refuses to leave office despite an uprising which threatens to unleash civil war.
RFA Cardigan Bay is part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, which was conducting exercises in the Mediterranean.
It acts as the UK’s maritime contingency force, ready to respond to unexpected global events.