Patrol ship HMS Spey became the first Royal Navy warship to visit the Pacific nation of Timor-Leste.
A quarter of a century after the UK supported an international peacekeeping effort – which eventually led to the small country’s independence – Spey sailed into the capital Dili for a three-day visit.
The ship was warmly welcomed by a sizeable contingent of Timorese media and hosted VIPs – led by the republic’s President Jose Ramos-Horta and the UK’s newly-appointed Ambassador, Dominic Jermey – as well as students, as her sailors discussed joint or mutual naval operations to ensure safety and security of the waters of the Timor Sea.
Timor-Leste is one of the youngest nations on the planet, finally declaring independence after decades of Indonesian – and, before that Portuguese – rule just over 20 years ago.
Located about 400 miles northwest of the Australian city of Darwin, the country occupies the eastern half of island of Timor – hence it was known as East Timor before independence – and is roughly three quarters of the size of Wales but with a population just four times the size of Cardiff.
Spey is one half of the Royal Navy force maintaining a permanent presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, alongside her older sister HMS Tamar. The pair are coming up to completing the second of their five years deployed from Portsmouth, working with the UK’s allies across the region in tackling a range of security issues, supporting remote Overseas Territories and clamping down on activities impacting the environment, such as illegal fishing, plastic pollution and climate change.
HMS Spey herself has most recently been in Brisbane supporting the England Women’s team on their road to the World Cup final and assessing the port facilities of the Queensland city for future Royal Navy operations off the eastern seaboard of Australia.
“The Royal Navy has not visited Dili since before independence, and the ship’s company and I were very excited to experience the culture of this beautiful country,” said Lieutenant Commander Matthew Millyard, Spey’s Commanding Officer.
“This visit is also a great opportunity for us to take on the fresh stores and fuel we need to keep HMS Spey at sea on our mission operating throughout the Asia-Pacific region. We are very grateful for the hospitality shown by the Timorese people.”
Spey’s mission has allowed the ship’s company to visit distant islands and communities few people can dream of. Dili and Timor-Leste have now joined that long list.
The ship opened her gangway to local school children, the country’s Navy – with Spey’s navigator Lieutenant Rachael Graveson championing the role of women at sea – and President Ramos-Horta for a ceremonial sunset.
Spey’s footballers took on the host nation’s navy while her medical team visited a Dili hospital to discuss potential support and assistance should Timor-Leste be hit by a natural disaster.
British Ambassador (Designate) to Timor-Leste Jermey – who was involved both in the UN peacekeeping mission in the late 1990s and supporting the country’s subsequent transition to independence – said the patrol ship’s visit had gone down very well with the host nation.
“Building strong, enduring partnerships with Timor-Leste is at the heart of the UK’s mission here,” he explained.
“HMS Spey is a physical demonstration of the UK’s commitment to deepening diplomatic, economic and security ties with Timor-Leste and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Timor-Leste matters to the UK because of its strategic location and its climate and economic vulnerability. I am very pleased to say that HMS Spey is the greenest ship in the Royal Navy and has been working closely with countries across this region on important areas such as climate change.”