ROYAL NAVY Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS SEVERN is to return to her base in Portsmouth after an eight-month deployment to the Caribbean.
The fact that a Royal Navy ship is coming home after a stint in the West Indies isn’t really news. What is newsworthy is that Severn is the first ship of her type to be sent abroad in such a role.
Severn is one of four Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) in service with the Royal Navy. Small and lightly armed, she is more commonly seen patrolling around the UK looking for fishing vessels working illegally, and contributing the security of Britain’s territorial waters. One of the class, HMS CLYDE is permanently stationed in the Falkland Islands where she performs a similar role to her sister ships. You can liken an OPV to a bobby on the beat, armed with a truncheon and radio rather than a gun and riot shield.
Three follow-on OPVs are being built for the Royal Navy. They will be completed to an improved design and with a defence review looming it looks likely the Royal Navy will want to keep ships like Severn and her sisters when the new vessels arrive.
To help the argument, the capability and adaptability of the Royal Navy’s OPV fleet has to be proved. For decades, Britain has sent expensive, modern front-line warships to places like the Caribbean. The term sledgehammer to crack a nut comes to mind. Warships equipped with world leading submarine hunting and air defence capabilities have been sent on deployments where their assets are not needed. When the navy boasted 50 or 60 ships, their deployment to less hostile areas was not a problem. With a fleet of around 19 ships, and with a string of global commitments to service, suddenly the logic of sending a frigate or a destroyer to places like the Caribbean comes under question.
The Caribbean patrol has in recent years been “gapped.” It is a Ministry of Defence term which means the UK hasn’t made a ship or military unit available. In reality it often means there isn’t a ship or military unit available.
Using lighter armed OPVs which are cheaper to acquire and run, could be the answer. HMS SEVERN’s deployment might prove to be a long-term solution.
The Caribbean patrol that Severn has undertaken has not been an eight month long cruise in the sun. She has been involved in fishery protection operations and firefighting exercises in Anguilla., In the Turks and Caicos Islands her crew trained with local police. In Barbados, she trained with local coastguards. In all HMS SEVERN visited 29 ports.
There was also Exercise Tradewind 15 which involved the Mexican Navy, the Canadian Navy, US Coastguard and law enforcement agencies from across the region. Tradewind 15 focused on disaster relief - something British Warships and their crews have been involved with on a number of occasions over recent years.
All the above is vital work, but when British Warships deploy to the Western Atlantic they often get involved in counter narcotics operations. Drugs busts conducted by Royal Navy vessels over the past decade have netted millions of pounds of contraband. Drugs which would otherwise end up on the streets countries all over the world.
No-doubt the debriefs and evaluations of Severn’s performance in the Caribbean have begun. Perhaps this little warship’s trip away from the familiar waters of the UK could herald a groundbreaking future for the Royal Navy and its overseas deployments.
See what HMS SEVERN has been up to on her deployment.