SAILORS in frigate HMS Montrose are convinced their efforts are making a difference to the lives of people in Iraq.
The Devonport-based warship is coming towards the end of her tour-of-duty in this troubled region, having carried out her unsung duties protecting Iraqâ€™s main source of income: oil and its distribution.
â€œThis is a â€˜whole ship effortâ€™,â€ said logistics officer Lt Cdr Elaine Goldsworthy.
â€œThe difference we can make to ordinary Iraqi lives is tangible.
â€œIn terms of operational tasking for a frigate, this is probably the most rewarding on offer today.â€
In good weather, there are around 100 fishing vessels bobbing up and down in the vicinity of the Al Basra and Khawr al Amaya Oil Terminals (in military speak ABOT and KAAOT).
An estimated nine tenths of Iraqâ€™s wealth is generated by the oil pumped into tankers from these structures; they are prime targets for the insurgents therefore, and it falls to the Allied navies and fledgling Iraqi Navy and Marines to protect them.
â€œThe ops team is focused on protecting the platforms,â€ explained operations officer Lt Cdr Paul Hammond.
â€œKeeping the enormous amount of local fishermen clear of the exclusion zone around the terminals poses a real challenge.â€
Blue Watch and Green Watch (one RN, one Royal Marines) boarding parties operating from Montrose patrol the waters in small boats, inspecting the flurry of dhows and carrying out security checks on the huge tankers.
At peak times as many as a dozen merchantmen are waiting to fill their hulls with Iraqâ€™s principal export.
A security check on such vessels can take up to three hours as all compartments are inspected, as is the shipâ€™s documentation.
â€œThe relevance of what we have been asked to do should not be underestimated,â€ said Montroseâ€™s Commanding Officer Cdr Tony Watt.
â€œOil is Iraqâ€™s lifeblood. By helping to ensure the steady flow of income to Iraq, the Navy is contributing directly to the countryâ€™s future stability and democracy