January 20, 2021 – It’s exactly one year to the day since HMS Medway left Portsmouth for a long-term mission to patrol the Caribbean.
And it will be several more years before you see the patrol ship in home waters as she continues to patrol Britain’s North Atlantic territories.
Medway is at the vanguard of the Royal Navy’s Forward Presence program, stationing warships overseas for several years at a time, using regional ports and British or allied nations’ bases for resupply and maintenance and regular crew changes.
Since Medway sailed last January HMS Trent has conducted patrols in the Mediterranean, HMS Tamar is now ready for operations and the last ship in the class, HMS Spey, is preparing for front-line duties, while the lead vessel, HMS Forth, is already in the Falklands.
Medway is currently in Mayport, Florida, undergoing winter maintenance before resuming her work providing support, assistance and reassurance for Britain’s overseas territories in the region, from flag flying for the UK and participating in key local events, to delivering assistance in the event of a natural disaster.
The ship has sailed just short of 50,000 miles – the equivalent of twice around the globe – since leaving Portsmouth, spending 184 of her 366 days away at sea.
Much of her first year was spent getting to know the many islands and their civilian/emergency services, facilities and the lay of the land should Medway be called on to provide assistance in the event of a hurricane or volcanic eruption.
And similarly, island communities have learned what Medway can offer in an emergency – communications, planning, skilled engineers and equipment, food, fresh water, trained medics, and the general ‘can-do’ attitude of sailors – culminating in two large-scale disaster relief exercises.
Chief Petty Officer Luke Travell is the longest serving member of the crew – he was the first person to join Medway while she was still being built on the Clyde back in 2017.
“When I first set eyes on Medway she was still having equipment fitted and set to work,” said Luke who’s the ship’s Deputy Weapon Engineer Officer, responsible for weapons systems and sensors.
“Assisting with the build process up to taking Medway on her first deployment has been a challenge and an honor. Now she is fully functioning and a key asset to Overseas Territories.”
Another key mission is to support the international fight against illegal drug running from South to North America – and from there to the wider world.
Medway has worked both independently and in tandem with support ship RFA Argus, which spent eight months in the Caribbean last year before returning home just before Christmas.
Throughout, the ship had a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment boarding team embarked – the new generation River-class ships have a dedicated mess to accommodate up to 50 military personnel precisely for such constabulary duties.
A dozen vessels were stopped, four boarded and two seized and subsequently sunk, with Medway seizing 650kg of cocaine on one occasion and forcing drug runners to ditch an estimated half tonne of the illegal narcotic on another.
The busts were, says Luke, the highlight of the ship’s deployment to date, earning Medway international media coverage – and delivering a blow to traffickers.
“During the interdiction I was manning the Electrical Optical Display (Infra Red camera) so I watched the whole event unfold and ensured it was all recorded for future evidence.”
And the patrol ship has frequently worked side-by-side with other navies operating in the region from the US Navy and Coast Guard, French and Dutch, to those of Brazil and Jamaica and the maritime police in the Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands.
The global pandemic has denied the ship’s company the full Caribbean experience and chance to explore as much of the islands as they’d like under normal circumstances, but Medway has still called in at: Gibraltar, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Guantanamo Bay, Curacao, Martinique, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
“The past year has provided amazing experiences to see and work in areas of the world I never expected to travel to, and meet and work with people from many different nations,” said gunnery officer Lieutenant Solomon Jacka.
Underwater warfare specialist Able Seaman Cavan Robinson has enjoyed the chance to spread his wings beyond normally staring at sonar displays in an operations room.
“Working onboard outside my core branch has been a great opportunity, getting involved in sea boat launches and gunnery which I wouldn’t normally be as involved with has been very enjoyable,” he said.
The ship’s hard work and achievements were recognized with Medway being named the best/most effective patrol ship in the Fleet in 2020.
“This has been an extraordinary deployment for Medway, with the challenges of being a forward deployed unit further compounded by the ongoing pandemic,” said Lieutenant Commander Jim Blythe, the ship’s Commanding Officer.
“However, my ship’s company has remained focused and delivered an excellent output, with many first of class successes being achieved this year, including the first deck landings by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, and conducting exercises with our partners in the region.
“It was fitting recognition for my ship’s company to be awarded the efficiency pennant, and every member of my crew should be proud of their achievement.”