Homeward bound after helping fight drugs trade
A Devonport-based Royal Navy ship is starting to head back home after playing a crucial role in tracking down drug smugglers in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The crew of HMS Argyll have been working alongside US, Canadian and Colombian allies to help deter drug traffickers from using the sea to transport their goods.
One of the ship's key assets is her Lynx helicopter, known as Eagle One, which flew for over 37 hours during the counter-narcotics operations.
During this time Eagle One's crew detected and deterred illegal activity and found numerous vessels suspected of smuggling or supporting other vessels actively engaged in smuggling. Flight 211, which fly the Lynx, are part of 815 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton.
Flight Commander Lieutenant Ben Jewson said it had been an exciting deployment.
"Eastern Pacific operations such as this have not taken place for a while," he said.
"The first thing we had to get to grips with was understanding Counter Narcotics operations on the west side of the Panama Canal."
Eagle One covered thousands of square miles every day in the pursuit of drug smugglers and illegal maritime activity at all times of the day and night.
The normal flight crew of pilot and observer were augmented by the US Coast Guard airborne controller, who provided local intelligence and advice.
In case a "go-fast" boat, as the drug smugglers' craft are known, was unwilling to stop, the crew was further augmented with two Marine snipers.
"The Marines have the job of targeting the outboard engines of any 'go-fast' type boat in order to bring that vessel to a halt," said one of the US Coast Guard airborne controllers.
"The accuracy of shot from the cramped confines of a Lynx helicopter into the engines of a 'go-fast' moving at speed is unnerving," he added.
As well as her counter-drugs operations, Argyll also had to rapidly switch to a less aggressive posture as she led a search and rescue mission for a yacht.
The anti-smuggling work is part of Operation Martillo, a 15-nation collaborative effort to deny criminal organisations air and maritime access to parts of Central America and focus on putting a stop to the illegal movement of drugs to the western world.
Commander Tim Neild, HMS Argyll's Commanding Officer, said: "I am extremely proud of the hard work put in by my crew and the US Coast Guard team during this period of high-tempo counter-narcotics operations.
"When you consider the other roles we have undertaken during our seven-month deployment, Argyll has really showcased the capability and flexibility of a Royal Navy warship."
HMS Argyll visited Key West last week and will make other courtesy visits before returning home next month.
Her seven-month tour has included the South Atlantic, where members of the crew re-enacted Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary trek across the snow and ice of South Georgia Island.