Type 23 Frigate HMS Montrose has made an historic visit to the United Kingdom’s most remote overseas territory, the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, where she has joined the war on pollution and enjoyed the hospitality of locals.
The visit is the first time in over eighteen years a Royal Navy warship has visited the territory; with the last visit being made by HMS Sutherland and RFA Bayleaf in September 2000 as part of their world tour.
In the Royal Navy’s absence, periodic visits are paid by the French Navy’s Polynesian guardship as well as warships from New Zealand that patrol nearby waters to maintain a naval presence in these far flung British waters.
The British territorial waters surrounding the four main islands – Pitcairn, Dulcie, Oneo and Henderson – may be some of the most remote in the world, but they still need protecting. Since March 2015 the entire exclusive economic zone – some 834,334 square kilometres (322,138 sq mi) has been declared as a protected marine area. With advanced satellite technology, managed from a control centre in England, used to monitor and secure some of the most untouched ocean habitats from the perils of pollution and overfishing.
HMS Montrose supported these efforts by undertaking survey work around each island to monitor the effects of the Pacific currents in disposing plastic and rubbish debris along the shoreline. Henderson Island in particular has been dubbed ‘the most polluted island in the world’, with estimates suggesting close to three hundred items are deposited on its beaches every day. Over two days the ship, and its Wildcat helicopter, visited each island group to gather valuable intelligence.
The footage, captured by the ship’s Leading Photographer Joe Cater, will be provided to conservationist groups ahead of a clean-up operation later this year.
While scanning for garbage may be viewed as a strange task for a warship, it is in fact of vital importance. For these remote island communities, ecological damage can threaten their economic viability through decreased tourism and capacity to produce natural products to export.
In the case of the Pitcairn Island its famous disease-free honey has been a popular export and is said to be served at Buckingham Palace, while adventure tourism and visiting cruise ships provide a vital income stream. In some territories more overt strategic interests may also be at threat; HMS Protector conducted the same role in the British Indian Ocean Territory just last year, helping clear debris to ensure the ongoing viability of the Diego Garcia airbase.
With the Naval Service remaining one of the only government departments with the capability to reach these remote islands, let alone deploy assets such as helicopters to them, these missions will continue to be a permanent fixture of naval deployments to come. Demonstrating the vital role played by the Navy in maintaining all aspects of British sovereignty in territories across the globe.
HMS Montrose is currently crossing the globe on her way to take up posting as the Royal Navy’s forward deployed frigate in the Persian Gulf. Since transiting the Panama Canal in November she has joined her Chilean sisters in a fleet review for the Chilean Navy’s bicentenary and spent Christmas at Easter Island.
She is expected to remain forward deployed for the next three years and, unless she also passes through the British Indian Ocean Territory on her way, this could be her last visit to British waters this decade.