Royal Marine Commandos board a merchant ship which had been attacked in the Red Sea.
(ROYAL NAVY) In the fading light of an August afternoon, the specialist boarding team from HMS Monmouth search the MV Caravos Horizon after it flashed an SOS: UNDER ATTACK FROM PIRATES
The Devonport-based frigate was 90 miles away when the distress call went out and was immediately ordered by Combined Task Force 151 – one of the Coalition naval forces maintaining security in the waters east of Suez – to make best speed.
Sixty miles from the merchantman’s last reported position, Black Knight, Monmouth’s Lynx helicopter, was flashed up and headed off to help Caravos Horizon.
The 24 Filipino crew of the Maltese-flagged and Greek-owned vessel had reported that six men had stormed the 63,000-tonne bulk carrier; they immediately fell back on the ‘citadel’ – an impregnable part of the ship.
Although the crew were safe, they had no idea what was happening on the rest of the vessel – which is where Monmouth’s Lynx came in.
Lynx pilot Chris Easterbrook explained:
“Having heard about the distress of the Caravos Horizon, we urgently launched to assess the threat to the merchant vessel and to provide real-time information to Monmouth.”
“We stood off at a distance, relaying the current situation and taking photographs and video footage to aid the Commanding Officer’s decision-making process.”
“We had to make sure that we understood the situation onboard fully, in order to determine what level of threat the boarding team may face once embarked.”
While Monmouth was approaching the scene, her ops room team were working with the nearby American assault ship USS Bataan. The latter launched a MH-60S helicopter to assist and conduct a survey of the wider area.
Analysing all the reports that were coming in, there appeared to be no sign of the attackers; only a ladder over the side of MV Caravos Horizon was spotted.
It was at this point that Monmouth’s boarding team – a mixture of Royal Marine Commandos from the Fleet Protection Group, backed up by the ship’s owned specially-trained sailors – boarded the merchant ship by rope from the Lynx and from the Black Duke’s sea boats.
Their job was to systematically work their way through the Caravos Horizon to make sure it was clear of intruders.
Lt Harry Lane RM, in charge of the Royal Marines’ detachment aboard HMS Monmouth, said:
“I was immensely proud of the way my team conducted themselves. This was a time-critical operation; it was late in the day and we had very few daylight left.”
“At the very minimum we needed to get on board and into the superstructure of the merchant vessel before last light.”
“We were able to achieve this with some very quick planning and the use of the RN boarding team to bolster our numbers.”
As soon as it became clear that the attackers had fled, the boarding team freed the crew from their refuge and handed control of the vessel back to the master.
Monmouth’s Commanding Officer Cdr Dean Bassett said:
“My entire ship’s company responded with alacrity to the plight of fellow mariners and were determined to play their part.”
“Although a large vessel, the boarding was well within the capabilities of my highly skilled teams onboard Monmouth.”
“In this instance the assailants had fled whilst we approached, but our robust response will act as a deterrent to others from committing such crimes and provide reassurance to the maritime community that we are here to safeguard the high seas.”
The Caravos Horizon has now continued her voyage and Monmouth has returned to her mission of disrupting and deterring piracy.
Helping the Caravos Horizon is not the only good deed recently performed by the Black Dukes; the sailors also picked up a distress signal from the three-masted schooner Boreas in the Red Sea.
In this instance it was a medical emergency rather than piracy; the crew of the schooner were concerned about the health of one of their shipmates who’d been unwell for several days.
As Monmouth was only 35 miles away, the frigate sailed to the Boreas’ assistance and sent her medical officer, Surg Lt Samuel Jeffery across.
Surg Lt Jeffery explained:
“Having assessed him on the yacht, we were able to provide some medical treatment to improve his symptoms.”
“Given the remoteness of the location and the time it would have taken for him to get to a hospital, it was decided to transfer him to our medical facilities onboard Monmouth.”
The frigate has subsequently transported the ill mariner to a local hospital to receive advanced medical treatment.