HMS Montrose will head to Japan later this year, the fourth British warship to visit the country in 12 months, to continue the UK’s role in the enforcement of UN sanctions on North Korea.
The announcement comes as Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll spent New Year’s in the region and took part in exercises with Japanese and US navies.
Fellow Plymouth-based frigate Montrose will head to the Asia-Pacific to monitor illegal ship-to-ship transfers of key imports and exports as part of the international pressure campaign against North Korea’s illegal nuclear programme.
During her deployment, announced by Prime Minister Theresa May today during a visit by her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the ship will follow in Argyll’s footsteps of taking part in anti-submarine warfare alongside the Japanese Navy (Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force).
Commander Conor O’Neill, commanding officer of HMS Montrose, said: “HMS Montrose is looking forward to deploying further into Asia, heading deeper into this important region.
“As we prepare to take the baton from our sister ship HMS Argyll, we are seized of the opportunities that our presence offers, both to contribute to the maintenance of peace and security at sea and ashore, and to enhance the UK’s interests and relationships in this fascinating and complex region.”
It was a busy 2018 of UK-Japanese co-operation with UK troops taking part in an exercise on Japanese soil for the first time for Exercise Vigilant Isles in October.
HMS Sutherland joined Argyll for exercises with HMS Albion also spending time in the area enforcing sanctions against North Korea. Montrose’s deployment means the Royal Navy will have had an almost unbroken presence in the strategically critical Asia-Pacific area for the last year.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Japan is one of our most important and valued global partners, both in defence and beyond. The Royal Navy’s presence plays a vital part by continuing to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its illegal nuclear programme.”
HMS Montrose is currently on a 5,500-mile journey from South America to New Zealand and spent some time visiting Tahiti.
It’s the first time in 15 years a Royal Navy ship has visited the French island chain – 5,000 miles from Japan, 2,500 miles from Auckland.
She has been hopping her way across the South Pacific since leaving Chile just before Christmas, calling in at Easter Island, conducting environmental surveys around Henderson and Pitcairn Islands and now carrying out combined training with the French Navy in Tahiti.
The link-up allowed Montrose to hone her air defence skills against a French Guardian Maritime Patrol Aircraft. And the French made use of HMS Montrose, practising setting down one of their Dauphin helicopters on the flight deck – all before the British warship sailed into the capital Papeete.
Sailors and Royal Marines stretched their legs with a trip to the beaches, tried their hand at scuba diving or headed into the heart of Tahiti for a mountain hike.
Sub Lieutenant Deri White, in charge of the ship’s boarding team, said: “Following our recent visit to Chile and the hike I conducted in the Andes, Tahiti delivered equal challenges but rewarded us all with some truly stunning views.”
Montrose is ultimately heading for Bahrain, where she’ll be based for three years, swapping her entire crew with sister ship HMS Monmouth every six or so months to allow Britain to maintain a major warship in the Middle East long term.
The Marine Nationale in French Polynesia works on a similar principle, so Commander O’Neill was keen to hear from the French Maritime Commander for the Pacific, Rear Admiral Laurent Lebreton for tips and ideas.
“Our visit to Tahiti has given us the opportunity to train with old and established allies thousands of miles from our normal operating regions,” said Commander O’Neill.
“This has underlined both the UK’s commitment to the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, and the ability of our two nations to work together.
“We’ve also had the opportunity to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime visit to this beautiful island, our third so far, as we continue the trans-pacific leg of our global deployment.”