Four days ‘well spent’ by Montrose as her marines and commandos hone boarding skills

HMS Montrose’s commandos and Royal Navy boarding team are ready for the pirate/terrorist/smuggler scourge east of Suez after four days of intensive training in Crete.

The combined dark blue and green boarding teams moved around the specialist NATO complex in Souda Bay, which includes the unique training ship Aris.

With his ‘simunition’ pistol at the ready, a Royal Marines Commando from HMS Montrose stalks his way around a unique training ship – ready for the frigate’s mission east of Suez.

The combined Royal Marine and Royal Navy Boarding teams from the Devonport-based frigate spent four days at NATO’s board and search training centre in Souda Bay on Crete for a final honing of skills.

Thanks to its specialist facilities – the island is home to FORACS (FORces sensors and weapons Accuracy Check Site) which tests the myriad of sensors, communications, radars and sonars to ensure they’re in full working order, allowing NATO ships to pass crucial information to each other accurately – Crete is typically the last port of call for any RN ship heading to the Middle East.

It’s also home to the Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre, whose pièce de resistance is a former Hellenic Navy training ship, the Aris, now used to allow visiting ship’s companies to fine tune their board and search skills through its narrow passageways and cluttered compartments.

For added realism, teams take their training to the next level courtesy of weapons which fire ‘simunition’ – simulated ammunition, which possesses most of the characteristics of the real thing, minus the blood.

“The facilities are first rate – there’s a new fast-rope gantry located within the grounds which provided the Royal Marines with the ability to practise a fast-rope from a simulated helicopter,” explains Lt Cdr Tony Marden, Montrose’s weapon engineer officer.

“The centre’s experienced staff are drawn from a variety of backgrounds that include counter-terrorist police, Greek Special Forces and enhanced boarding teams.

“They impart real-life experiences and stimulate thought on the varying tactics that can be employed when undertaking a boarding.”

The training offered at the NATO centre isn’t just physical. There’s a cerebral element with Montrose’s sailors and commandos taught about crew psychology to help them when it comes to searching suspicious vessels for real. As a rule, Royal Marines clear a ship and make it safe for Royal Navy personnel to focus on search techniques.

Despite the intense training and high temperatures (low 30s Celsius) the Royal Marines continued their tactical training into the hours of darkness – even though they were offered the opportunity to take a rest.

The collective training came together in a final exercise where a non-compliant vessel (ie one which doesn’t want to be stopped and searched) was boarded by the green berets, who ensured it was safe for their sailor comrades to come aboard and gather evidence. It’s a not uncommon occurrence faced by RN boarding teams east of Suez.

“This has been a good experience for everybody involved and a lot of effort has gone in to make the most of the training received,” said Capt Chris Nightingale RM, in charge of the 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group boarding team aboard the Type 23.

“The centre provides an excellent opportunity to work with other nations and compare and contrast our procedures in a fantastic environment with excellent facilities. If we take just one thing away and improve overall operational effectiveness, then it is time well spent.”

The leader of the RN boarding team, Lt Dan Sercombe, added: “Training here has been both challenging and rewarding, combining a higher level of professional training with an opportunity to undertake acclimatisation in a new operating area.

“Overall it has been a hugely enriching experience.”


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