Royal Navy will continue long-term Gulf mission as warships trade places

The Royal Navy will continue permanently operating a major warship in the Gulf and the Middle East after swapping vessels patrolling the region.

After three and a half years in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, the Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose has been relieved by HMS Lancaster.

This is to continue a mission key to the UK's – and international – prosperity and security, safeguarding merchant shipping, tackling criminal and terrorist activity including smuggling arms and drugs, and working with UK allies across the region.

HMS Montrose left the UK in October 2018 and has been operating from the Royal Navy's Naval Support Facility in Bahrain since April 2019.

The ship has been 'forward based' in Bahrain, joining the Combined Maritime Forces –  34 nations tackling piracy and terror.

Montrose has since found herself at the centre of global events when tensions in the region led to threats and attacks on merchant shipping.

Since 2020, Montrose has seized over 16 tonnes of illegal narcotics over 10 busts, denying criminal/terrorist groups proceeds worth at least £80m on the UK wholesale market.

In a first for the Royal Navy, HMS Montrose twice intercepted boats trying to ship high-tech weaponry, contravening a UN Security Council Resolution, seizing surface-to-air missiles and engines for cruise missiles in the process.

Royal Navy Gulf mission handover HMS Montrose HMS Lancaster 13112022 CREDIT Royal Navy MOD.jpg
The handover marking that HMS Montrose has been relieved by HMS Lancaster in the Gulf (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).

To sustain Montrose in the Gulf environment, maintenance work has been carried out at local shipyards – including the new port of Duqm, Oman, where Montrose and Lancaster traded places.

Every four months the entire crew of sailors, Royal Marines and aviators are swapped like-for-like with a second crew from the UK, with many of the HMS Lancaster crew having previously served in the Gulf aboard Montrose.

Lieutenant Joe Stutchbury, who commands the ship's Royal Marines detachment, said the time aboard Montrose had been a "unique experience" for his commandos, who had been at the forefront of a string of drug seizures.

"HMS Lancaster has some serious boots to fill as the next frigate deployed to the region," he added.

Upon her return to Devonport next month, HMS Montrose will undergo maintenance before a final spell of operational duties around the UK early in 2023 and a 'farewell tour' – including a visit to her namesake Scottish town – before the ship is formally decommissioned in the spring after 29 years of active service.

A drugs haul is laid out on Montrose's flight deck
A drugs haul is laid out on HMS Montrose's flight deck (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).

HMS Montrose Fact File

  • Sailed 134,389 nautical miles (19.5 times around the globe or two-thirds of the distance from the Earth to the Moon)
  • Passed through the choke points of the Strait of Hormuz 111 and Bab al Mandeb 6 times, safely accompanying 132 merchant ships
  • Destroyed 16 tonnes of illegal narcotics in more than 10 busts, denying criminal/terrorist groups proceeds worth at least £80m
  • Seized illegal shipments of surface-to-air missiles and cruise missile engines – a first for the Royal Navy
  • Conducted 378 days of security patrols of the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean – an area eight times the size of the North Sea – working with the international Combined Maritime Forces
  • Changed all 200 crew 11 times
  • Has been away from the UK for 1,478 days (since October 29 2018), more than 1,350 of them in the Gulf region
  • Endured temperatures as high as 55 Celsius
  • Chefs have prepared 864,000 meals, using 216,000 eggs and 8,640 tins of bins
  • The crew have downed 288,000 cups of tea.