The UK Maritime Trade Operation relies on a small team of RNR personnel to help merchant ships east of Suez avoid piracy and other criminal activity – and to come to their aid if required.
Reservists are being sought to work in one of the Royal Navy’s smallest – but most important – front-line operations, safeguarding the sea lanes east of Suez.
The UK Maritime Trade Operation in Dubai is calling on members of the 140-strong specialist branch to volunteer for six-month stints working side-by-side with merchant navies to help them avoid piracy and other criminal activity – and to come to their aid if required.
Run from the grounds of the British Embassy in the emirate, the six-strong organisation – one Full-Time Reserve Service lieutenant commander, a Merchant Navy liaison officer and four reservists (a lieutenant, chief and two able seamen) – monitors the activities of around 3,000 merchant ships every day moving through the Red Sea, Gulf and Indian Ocean almost as far south as Madagascar.
The team also call on the masters of around 40 merchantmen every week – bulk transporters, gas and oil tankers, car carriers, container ships – to inform them of the latest developments at sea, in particular the scourge of 21st-Century piracy.
Thanks to a concerted effort by the world’s navies and shipping companies, no vessel has been seized by pirates operating off the notorious Horn of Africa since May 2012.
That said, there remains an ongoing job to do, as Lt Richard Adair (HMS Wildfire), UKMTO’s second-in-command, says: “Piracy is significantly down. But it’s not gone. Complacency could be a big issue.”
He works in the insurance industry but volunteered for the draft for “something different from the day job”.
He continues: “I am having a great time – this is a great job. You feel you have a real impact – and you are always appreciated by the merchant sailors. When you leave the office, you can say: I’ve done something good today. I’ve had an effect.”
The MTO specialists in the RNR are the link between the military and civilian shipping worlds, tracing their roots back to WW2 and convoy duties – a role and skill maintained throughout the Cold War and which is part of the 18-24-month training package today.
That latter fact is why full-time regulars from other branches of the RN cannot fill the posts in Dubai – which is the only enduring front-line operational role in the MTO world. Everything else they do (with the exception of war) is purely exercise.
Accommodation is provided in the embassy grounds, next to Dubai’s creek and a half an hour by Metro from the Burj al Khalifa, the world’s tallest buildings, and other attractions and malls in downtown Dubai.
“It is a good place to work, but it’s not a jolly,” says HMS King Alfred’s CPO Gary Willis, a former full-time matelot who joined the RNR when his 24 years’ service came to an end.
“This is a seven-day-a-week operation. You get calls at all hours.”
Cdr Richard Morris, formerly CO of HMS Southampton and today Royal Navy Liaison Officer and Commanding Officer of Naval Party 1023 – the RN contingent in Dubai (himself, his deputy and UKMTO) – says it’s vital the Senior Service maintains a presence in the emirate and that reservists are a key part of that presence.
“This job is bread and butter to the Maritime Trade Operation specialists. It’s their only front-line job,” he adds.
“What happens here is about the prosperity of the UK. The vast majority of our goods and energy is passing through this region. Anything which stops that trade, even it’s not bound for Britain, directly affects the UK.
“It’s also the future. Dubai is the hub of shipping in the region – but then it’s the hub for everything. Trade, finance, transport – the airport is now busier than Heathrow.”
For details about working at UKMTO contact NPT (Reserves), Navy Command HQ, MP 1-2, West Battery, PP300, Whale Island, Portsmouth, PO2 8DX or email@example.com.