Hunt Class - Fishery Protection / Northern Ireland Squadron
HM Ships Quorn, Ledbury and Cattistock were Hunt MCMVs assigned to Commander Fishery Protection for fishery protection tasking. A further three Hunt class ships with mine counter measure capability were configured for use as patrol craft. They were Brecon, Cottesmore and Dulverton, with planned decommissioning dates of 2016, 2022, and 2020 respectively [in fact, these three units were retired from Northern Ireland patrol duties in 2005].
Up to four Hunt Class Mine Counter Measures Vessels (MCMVs) undertook a 12-18 month roulement with the Squadron and formed the Inshore Division. Other RN ships can also be called upon to carry out Fishery Protection duties if so required. The RN Fishery Protection Squadron patrols the areas within the British Fishery Limits around the English, Welsh, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Island coasts. The RN also inspects British fishing vessels in international waters. The Scottish Fishery Protection Agency is responsible for patrolling the waters off the Scottish coast.
The Hunt class vessels that were seconded to the Fishery Protection Squadron for 2 to 3 year periods were Mine Countermeasure vessels which were designed for that primary role. There had always been three to five Hunts in the Fishery Protection Squadron at any one time, but they have always acted in a supporting role to the Islands and Rivers within the Fishery Protection Squadron. Most of the Hunts provided on average, 50-100 patrol days each year and consequently spend long periods of the year not on fisheries enforcement duties.
By 2004 the RN Fishery Protection Squadron had three River Class patrol vessels and three Hunt Class MCMVs allocated to Fishery Protection duty, although the number of ships actually on patrol at any given time depended on the level of fishing activity. The River and Hunt Class vessels provide different capabilities. The River Class are Offshore Patrol Vessels that are leased by the Department, primarily to meet its remit to DEFRA for providing Fishery Protection in UK waters. The Hunt Class, however, are Mine Counter-measure Vessels that, prior to the introduction of the River Class, were used to meet the Department's requirement to carry out Fishery Protection duties.
The conversion of Hunt class mine counter-measures vessels to replace the River class patrol vessels used in support of security operations in Northern Ireland was announced in the 1996 "Statement on the Defence Estimates". At the time, it was estimated that the replacement program would begin in the summer of 1997. Since the announcement, however, it became clear that the time scale required for the conversion program was underestimated and the replacement of River class vessels with Hunts was planned to commence early in 1998. By 1998 three Hunt Class vessels were assigned to the Northern Ireland Squadron to replace the River Class.
Cottesmore, Brecon and Dulverton patrolled the province's waterways and participate in counter terrorist operations in support of British Forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Before undertaking this role they underwent a brief conversion including the installation of davits, so they could carry two Pacific and one Arctic RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boats) and for security reasons their pennant numbers were painted out. Although their sweep gear was removed it can be reiftted if required.
The plans as of 2003 are that the 19 ship systems purchased to improve minehunting and minesweeping capability will be fitted to all Hunt and Sandown class Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs). There was no requirement to fit the ship systems to the three former Hunt class vessels configured for use solely as patrol craft, forming the Northern Ireland Squadron (HMS Brecon, HMS Cottismore and HMS Dulverton).
The Northern Ireland Patrol Vessel (NIPV) Squadron comprised three re-roled Hunt Class Mine Counter-Measure Vessels (HMS Brecon, HMS Dulverton and HMS Cottesmore) with one ship usually on station at any given time. The 2004 decision to withdraw from service by April 2007 the three Hunt-class patrol vessels from Northern Ireland coastal waters reflected the Chief Constable's and General Officer Commanding's assessment of the improved security situation in Northern Ireland. It was announced on 23 March 2005, Official Report, column 69WS, that the Navy decided that the vessels would be decommissioned in September 2005. While there would be no permanent assignments of Royal Navy vessels for Northern Ireland following their release by the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable was satisfied that routine Royal Navy activities around the UK and specific intelligence-led maritime operations will deliver an appropriate level of support to the police in countering terrorism. HMS Cottesmore & HMS Dulverton were retired from Northern Ireland patrol duties in 2005 and awaited sale or disposal.
Following on from announcements made in the July 2004 Defence White Paper, the Royal Navy considered how best to reorganise mine countermeasures squadrons to deliver the operational capabilities required in the future. Due to the variations in the types of sonar on the two classes; the requirement for some HUNTs, which can be used for fishery protection duties, to be co-located with the Fishery Protection Squadron in Portsmouth; and because the Navy wished to cause the minimum amount of disruption to individuals, it was decided that the best long-term option will be provided by the formation of two single-class squadrons. This meant that all eight HUNT class vessels would be based in Portsmouth while all eight SANDOWN class vessels would be based in Scotland (Faslane). The changes required to achieve this were complete by March 2007.
The former Hunt Class patrol vessel HMS Brecon was decommissioned in July 2005. Brecon, a veteran of the Falklands and the first Gulf War, arrived 12 February 2008 at HMS Raleigh to begin her new role as a training ship for the Royal Navy. From her moorings on the River Lynher, Brecon would give new recruits their first taste of life at sea during their initial nine weeks training course, experiencing what it is like to live and sleep on a warship afloat while learning basic seamanship techniques. Brecon would also be used for advanced seamanship instruction to specialists at all levels and to give teams of sailors practical experience in ship's protection and board and search techniques.
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