Royal Navy frigate visits remotest inhabited island on the planet

HMS Richmond (F239) is a Type 23 frigate commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1995. She deployed to APT(S) in August 2013. Tristan da Cunha is a British Overseas Territory located in the South Atlantic and has a population of less than 300 hardy souls.

Tristan shout for HMS Richmond as she visits remote island

The remotest inhabited island on the planet became the latest port of call for HMS Richmond on her South Atlantic patrol.

The Portsmouth-based frigate spent two days off Tristan da Cunha, which is at least 1,500 miles from the nearest human habitation.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Gaz Weatherston, HMS Richmond

THERE’S something almost primeval about this image of a volcano rising above a thin layer of cloud.

This is Tristan da Cunha – one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world – as seen from HMS Richmond as the frigate approached the isolated South Atlantic outpost of Empire to begin a two-day stay.

As with all Royal Navy vessels who call at Tristan, which lies 1,750 miles from South Africa and more than 2,000 miles from South America (the nearest inhabited locality is another British Overseas Territory, St Helena, a mere 1,510 miles away), the frigate had to anchor offshore – the harbour at the island’s capital Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is too small to accommodate a Type 23.

After the smattering of people at Richmond’s last port of call, snow-capped South Georgia (about a dozen souls), Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is a positive metropolis with a population of 275, who lead a mostly-self-supporting life farming.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Gaz Weatherston, HMS Richmond

Their island is dominated by the 2,100-metre (6,890ft) Queen Mary Peak shield volcano – whose base extends 3,100 metres (over 10,000ft) down to the Atlantic seabed.

On the first day of a Richmond’s visit, her CO Cdr Rob Pedre was welcomed aboard the island’s administrator and magistrate, Alex Mitham, and its police officer, Inspector Conrad Glass, to highlight some of the important roles that the Royal Navy undertakes in the South Atlantic.

The islanders reciprocated the hospitality on the second day with a reception at the administrator’s residence for a number of the Ship’s Company whilst the Commanding Officer was hosted by Mr Mitham and was able to enjoy a guided tour of the island – which is about seven miles in diameter.

Pictures: LA(Phot) Gaz Weatherston, HMS Richmond

Unfortunately, due to poor weather, a planned golf and football match had to be cancelled, although the Portsmouth-based frigate’s 815 NAS Lynx did make the short hop ashore.

“It has been a great privilege taking HMS Richmond to the remotest British Overseas Territory in the world,” said Cdr Pedre.

“We have reassured the local British citizens that live in Tristan da Cunha and my ship’s company have enjoyed witnessing an island that few people ever get to see.”

Decline of Royal Navy frigate and destroyer strength 1983-2013

‘Were I to die at this moment “want of frigates” would be found stamped on my heart.’ Horatio Nelson, 1798.

In 1983, 30-years ago (which scarcely seems credible to this old fart), in the midst of the it-seemed-hot-enough-at-the-time Cold War, in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands Conflict, the Royal Navy planned for a force of 50 frigates and destroyers (HC Deb 28 November 1983 vol 49 cc661-737).

HMS Achilles (F12) Leander-class frigate at HMNB Portsmouth, 1983.

In 1993, post Cold War, already in draw down and reaping the so-called peace dividend, the Royal Navy was facing reductions to a force of 40 frigates and destroyers (HC Deb 25 February 1993 vol 219 c717W).

HMS Amazon (F169) Type 21 frigate sold to Pakistan as PNS Babur (D182) in 1993.

By 2003, in the midst of the Global War on Terror and with the Iraq War coming to the fore, the force had been reduced to 31 frigates and destroyers… of which only 26 were operational (HC Deb 12 May 2003 vol 405 cc47-50W).

HMS Glasgow (D88) Type 42 destroyer at HMNB Portsmouth, 2003. Copyright Kev Slade.

Today, 2013, realpolitik, Spain rattles its sabres over Gibraltar, Argentina remains bellicose over the Falklands, there is continued instability in Libya, Syria and Egypt, there are standing demands for counter-narcotics patrols in the Caribbean and counter-piracy patrols off the coast of East Africa, and the war of terror continues, and there is always the need for a Fleet Ready Escort… well… we’re down to just 19 frigates and destroyers (13 surviving Type 23, 5 Type 45 in commission, 1 Type 45 undergoing sea trials).

HMS Dragon (D35) Type 45 destroyer, off Gibraltar, 2013. Crown copyright.

Just 19. And not a single Type 26 on order. Talked about, but not ordered. Spec’d, but not ordered. Number to be purchased undecided.

Type 26 Global Combat Ship (Copyright © 2013 BAE Systems)

Type 26 Global Combat Ship. (Copyright © 2013 BAE Systems)

I don’t want to think about how things will be in 2023.

PHOTEX: HMS Argyll visits South Georgia

Images of HMS Argyll on her recent deployment to the the South Atlantic and South Georgia.

HMS Argyll arrives in South Georgia. Photo by L(Phot) Pepe Hogan.

HMS Argyll passing icebergs as she arrives in the South Atlantic on her way to South Georgia. Photo by L(Phot) Pepe Hogan.

HMS Argyll passing icebergs as she arrives in the South Atlantic on her way to South Georgia. Photo by L(Phot) Pepe Hogan.

HMS Argyll arrives in South Georgia and anchors off Grytviken. Photo by L(Phot) Pepe Hogan.

RFA Black Rover visits South Georgia

Atlantic Patrol Task (South) is the Royal Navy’s standing deployment in the South Atlantic and comprises 1 frigate or destroyer – currently the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll – supported by 1 fleet auxiliary – currently RFA Black Rover.

In addition, the River class OPV HMS Clyde is deployed in the South Atlantic as the permanently-stationed Falkland Islands Patrol Ship.

Black Rover is all white as she visits snowy South Georgia

Just days after sailors from HMS Argyll trekked across South Georgia, the crew of tanker RFA Black Rover were treated to a visit to the snow-laden paradise.

The tanker, which has recently taken over from her sister Gold Rover in the South Atlantic, spent four days anchored in Cumberland Bay off the capital Grytviken.

RFA Black Rover

IN THE middle of the UK’s heatwave, here’s something to perhaps cool you down: tanker RFA Black Rover within sight of the snow-capped ridges and peaks of South Georgia.

Hot (or should that be cold?) on the heels of frigate HMS Argyll’s visit to the remote South Atlantic island chain, the veteran tanker anchored off the capital Grytviken as she takes up her duties as Britain’s ‘floating petrol station’ south of the Equator.

The 39-year-old auxiliary has recently relieved her slightly-older sister Gold Rover, charged with providing black gold to sustain RN vessels on patrol in the South Atlantic (such as the permanent presence HMS Clyde, and whichever frigate or destroyer is assigned to the region – currently Argyll), as well as generally flying the flag for the UK around its territories in the region…

…of which South Georgia is among the most remote and least populous (about 30 souls).

A fiery sunrise over the peaks of South Georgia

The tanker spent four days at anchor in Cumberland Bay, in sight of glaciers calving into the ocean and the snow-laden mountains.

The 50 or so crew were briefed about the importance of the island’s wildlife and eco-systems before stepping ashore at Grytviken, where experts from the British Antarctic Survey were their hosts and guides.

Once a thriving whaling station, Grytviken has now become a haven for wildlife: large numbers of seals and sea birds lined the foreshore. Despite being out of season – it’s slap bang in the middle of the Austral winter right now – the island’s museum was opened for the visiting RFA sailors. Others inspected the wreck of the whaler Petrel, driven ashore decades ago, and no visit to South Georgia is complete without paying homage at the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, buried in Grytviken’s small cemetery alongside crew from merchant ships and some casualties of war.

Cadet(X) John James poses in front of the wreck of the old whaler Petrel

To thank the island’s small populace for their hospitality during the tanker’s stay, Black Rover invited the locals aboard for an ‘all requests considered’ lunch.

Islanders listed the foods they had been unable to obtain for many months given their isolation, and Black Rover’s galley strove to meet their requests.

In the end, the menu consisted of beef steak and fresh salad, plus the odd glass of red wine. All the victuals were gratefully received by the South Georgians, whilst the RFA sailors were glad to provide not just some fresh food but also fresh faces and good company.