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.

(Image Crown Copyright 2019)

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.

Commander Conor O'Neill inspects the beaches of Henderson Island for plastic waste
Commander Conor O’Neill inspects the beaches of Henderson Island for plastic waste. (Image Crown Copyright 2019)

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.

45 COMMENTS

  1. I am glad she went to our Pacific waters but appalled it has been 18 years!
    The area of British waters in the Pacific is actually bigger than around the British Isles, as the Pitcairn Islands are widely spread out.
    They should have a visit at least every few years to remind everyone else that the UK is the sovereign power.

  2. We really should use a little bit of the bloated aid budget to build a simple airstrip on Pitcairn. I am not talking about a 6000 ft+ runway for jets. Pitcairn is too small for that. What I suggest is a simple strip suitable for STOL twin turboprops. Just big enough to take a BN Islander or Viking Twinotter.
    You would probably have to level a slope at one end of the island. The excavated material could be used to build a quay, to protect visiting ships from the relentless Pacific surf.
    Pitcairn just needs a simple air connection to the nearest island with an ATR turboprop service to Tahiti. That missing link is a couple of hundred miles.

    • But, Pitcairn has @ 50 Residents, one Residential area and no real suitable place to build an Airstrip, oh and a GDP 0f @ NZ $250,000. Oh and, The Original Inhabitants Mutinied !!!!!

      • Which is the reason for the airstrip. It is better to spend that 0.7% on dots on the map still British, rather than new Mercedes/BMWs for dictators.
        Give Pitcairn a BN Islander airlink to the outside world & see more adventure tourists arrive. Also “Duty of Care”, the ability to airlift casualties to a proper hospital.

          • At the moment, you can fly Europe to Tahiti on a widebody Airbus (A340). From there you take an ATR twin turboprop to Totegie airport in Mangareva, 1652 km from Tahiti. From there it is a 32 hour (bouncy) boat trip at ten knots to Pitcairn.
            So, yes, Mangareva to Pitcairn is within range of a small STOL twin prop airliner.

        • John, having visited Pitcairn, many moons ago, and with a background in civil engineering, I can say with some confidence that it is next to impossible to build an airstrip on Pitcairn, even if the money and political will were there to do it.

          Conceivably you could level the ground between Taro Ground and the flatland/Ginger Valley areas but these sort of earthworks would be one hell of an undertaking on such a small island. You’d also have to consider impacts on the water table, drainage, agriculture etc. (you’d be paving over some of the most productive land on the island)

          The geography of the island and it’s remoteness simply don’t lend themselves to any sort of major project. Just getting the heavy machinery required onto the island would be a mission in an of itself. It’s surrounded by reefs, only small boats can get ashore.

          The recent addition of an airport to St Helena has been fraught with difficulty, St Helena has a land mass of around 125 sq/km Pitcairn has a total landmass of 4.5 sq/km. An airport for Pitcairn, however desirable, is simply not a realistic option.

          • Well OK you have been there, but Nepal manages to build simple, cheap STOL airstrips on far worse terrain.

          • Nepal manages to build these remote airstrips because it’s able to build roads to get the necessary heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators etc.) on site. This isn’t an option on Pitcairn.

            That said if I recall correctly I think the US has experimented with the ability to air drop a CAT D7/D8 bulldozer from a C5 Galaxy… that could be one way around getting heavy equipment onto the island.

            If money, political will, local ecology and the local environment etc were not a concern, I’m sure you could build an airstrip if you really, REALLY wanted to.

            I just can’t see a way you could do it and maintain the long term viability of the island to continue supporting human life.

        • No, no, an all-out base, a squadron 0f F-35s, an MPA, V-22, supply facilities for a frigate and SSN. A company of RM and paratroops. Pull a China and enlarge the island. Make the Southern Pacific British again. 🙂
          Seriously, occasional visits by ships are sufficient to keep the area connected to the world.

    • Idea (1) Pitcairn is 2200km from the International airport on French Polynesia. So use a V22 Osprey. With auxillary internal tanks it has a range of 3600km. It would need a helipad on Pitcairn with a fuel depot and would need to carry life rafts and buoyancy floats just in case, but it could be done and be good for emergency aid. The rest of French Polynesia could benefit too. However the cost would be a lot for just 50 population.

      Idea (2) Pitcairn is 6900km from the Falklands (avoiding Argentina). The A330 has a range of 14,800km so could fly there and back without landing and if equiped to do so could paradrop a pallet of supplies if needed. This would probably be the most cost effective method of getting some supplies in.

      • Pitcairn to Mangareva (for the ATR airlink to Tahiti), is around 334 to 337 miles depending on which internet source you look at.

          • A BN Islander can take off in 837 ft (255m). To be safe allowing for load, range temp, you need 1250 ft (320m).
            A 1250 ft simple strip is fine. I never said 6000 ft. It is a travesty to say that I did.

          • Sorry. I was scooting back up and down with the scrolling roll and read the wrong figure. But as you want to be huffy about it you idea is has no merit in the slightest.

      • That’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard… You’d have to find a way to improve the jetty at Adamstown and find some way of providing shelter for the aircraft when docked… But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility…

  3. “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.”

    Disgraceful and just shows the contempt the Government (All parties) has for British citizens, Makes you wonder what the spongers in the HOP have planned for Gib, Falklands and NI. Happy to throw ‘Loadsmoney’ at those who hate us, offer homes and benefits to those who hate us, but care about those they are supposed to look after…Yer having a Giraffe

  4. The Pitcairn group with almost a million km2 EEZ could easily become self sustaining plus if it had an Airport. Tourism and settlement would flourish. i would think that Pitcairn itself would be almost mission impossible to construct a runway. It is not only too small but has no flat land to speak of. Henderson Island would make far more sense with passengers being ferried to Pitcairn. The challenge here would be to do such a development without destroying the Islands unique environment

      • Indeed Cap’n! As you probably know they are almost all descendants of Fletcher Christian and have probably inherited his fear of the long arm of the Law 🙂

    • You don’t need flat land. Look at the very basic airstrips built in remote parts of Nepal. They can take Islander/TwinOtter type aircraft. The Nepalese airstrips were built with a tiny budget & little equipment, often in areas with no roads, only steep, narrow footpaths.
      Are UK Islanders AAC or have they gone to the RAF? Anyway, I would send one Islander pilot + a Royal Engineer by the existing plane/boat connection to do a quick survey of Pitcairn. Set up mini, remote weather stations at likely sites. Return to UK for a year & monitor results. That should tell you which side of the Island is best wind & weather wise for a simple airstrip.
      Then next time the UK sends a RN/RFA ship to Pitcairn, have onboard the biggest mini digger & bulldozer that can be lifted by a Merlin. Then heli lift these into the right spot. Have the military blow up any big rocks in the way, but otherwise let the islanders use the new equipment/design to get on & build the airstrip themselves. A good make work aid scheme.

        • John, I would recommend you check out Pitcairn on something like Wiki, You’ll see why I question the need to build airstrips or Ports.

          • It is a British dot on the map. Post Brexit, if we had an awake government (as if), these dots on the map could be very useful.
            In the meantime, we have a duty of care to the residents & visitors to Pitcairn. Hence the need for rapid casualty evacuation.
            We seem to be a nation of moaners. We moan about the cost of these dots, then we moan if anyone suggests building something that would make them more sustainable.
            I feel a simple, cheap STOL airstrip, on a gentle slope, Nepalese style, could provide a cheap emergency link + boost adventure tourism a little. Better that than give it to some African dictator so he can buy a new executive jet.

      • Sorry John but I’m not buying your Argument for Spending £££’s on a Dot in the Ocean, however you wish to turn It Into some sort of Revenue generating Tourist’s Oasis. As for the Casualty Evacuation, Duty of care, African Dictator bit, not to mention the Moaners mate, Seriously ? This Is an Island that was Inhabited by Fletcher Christian, a few of his crewmates and some Locals Years and Years ago, They have Kept themselves isolated ever since. It ain’t Hong Kong, the Falklands or the new world, It’s just an Isolated Rock with nothing much to offer.

        • For now, but what about the future?
          Many people try to guess what will be a future big industry. One that earns a country big bucks.
          Some are predicting those deep ocean, metal rich nodules, found on the ocean floor. No economic way of hoovering them up to the surface now, but perhaps in 30, 60, 90 years? Having an economic zone of 200 miles around Pitcairn, might be a big economic benefit in the later part of this century. Same for all the other deep ocean dots Britain has on the map.
          For now, why not boost the economy of Pitcairn with a few more tourists & reduce its need for a UK subsidy?
          Many islands as small, or smaller than Pitcairn, have a simple airstrip that connects them to the outside world. Many small islands in the Caribbean, Indian & Pacific oceans have this. Many built on a shoestring.
          Of course any project HMG gets hold of can be turned into a mega bucks vanity project, but it does not need to be.
          With thought, this can be done on the cheap, just by adding minimum resources to the few ships heading that way anyway.
          It does not need to be done overnight. If it takes a decade, bit by bit, then so be it.
          The mini digger & mini dozer we heli in from nearby passing ship, would be useful to the Island after the airstrip is finished, for any other projects/repairs the islanders have in mind.
          HMG blows £14 billion a year on foreign aid. If a simple 1250 ft sloping airstrip can be built on Pitcairn for less than £10 million, then I think that would be a bargain.

          • Mate, I’ve tried to explain, offer reasons, Give Facts about this tiny Island In the middle of nowhere, Offering Links to Google and Wiki. I’m obviously totally wrong. Go Build yer bloody Airstrip, just don’t use your own money !!!!!!

          • We will have to agree to disagree.
            There are many tiny islands in the Caribbean/Seychelles & elsewhere in Polynesia that have built very simple, cheap, short airstrips, to connect them to the outside world by small twinprop airliners.
            I am baffled as to why this should be impossible for anything British, when others far poorer & with fewer resources manage it.

          • John, The Small Island Is not suitable for an Airstrip or Proper Port especially a Cheap one. There are only 50 people there, one tiny Settlement, no proper roads, It is really remote and any Investment would be Financially Stupid. I really can’t see any reason to change anything.

  5. Hopefully a new generation of VTOL aircraft can solve the islands connection problem in future. I would love to visit but it’s paractically impossible at the moment.

  6. How about just visit Pitcairn on a sailboat (if you really want to) and go ashore in a tender -just like Fletcher Christian.

    • Its a very bouncy 32 hour boat ride. Sea sickness pills are advised on the website & they are trying to get you to book!

  7. Most people have no idea just how *small* Pitcairn is, excepting Chris J. Many more tourists would require some sort of lodging. Private firms would only pay for it and other facilities if they saw a profit for them. best thing is to wait for technology to catch up so a VTOL with needed range is available.

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