HMS Mersey in £12 Million Caribbean drugs bust

Read the headline, sounds great doesn’t it.

HMS Mersey, one of the Royal Navy’s fisheries protection vessels, doing good work in the Gulf instead of fisheries protection duties in the UK.

But read more, compare the headline and then compare the quote from Mr Fallon with what HMS Mersey and her crew actually did.

Before anyone gets on their high horse, this is in no way a criticism of the crew, the ship or Royal Navy, they are digging in, doing what they can with what they have and contributed to taking some drugs out of circulation.

What did HMS Mersey actually do?

Well read the story yourself, recreated below, but from that (and I accept there could well be things not reported) the contribution consisted of providing a boat ride for the three suspects and moving the drugs packages from the yacht to the US Coastguard vessel. With no helicopter or decent sensor package, the fisheries protection vessel is not really up to doing much else, perhaps.

Talk about making a mountain out of a very small mole hill.

It is a sign of just how ridiculous the MoD media team has become and how divorced from reality the Government and Secretary of State for defence are. The reason HMS Mersey is there and not in UK waters is simply because the frigate and destroyer cupboard is bare.

Global reach and strength, increasing defence budget, please, stop it.

Anyway, do read on…

Mersey, operating in the North Atlantic region as part of her commitment to the security of the UK’s overseas territories, worked with the Canadian Navy and US Coastguard in the operation to intercept a small yacht.

The Honduras-bound yacht was stopped and searched by a US Coast Guard team in the Canadian ship HMCS Summerside and 304kg of drugs were discovered onboard. HMS Mersey sent a small team on her fast boat – a Pacific 22 rigid inflatable – to take charge of three suspects and bring them back to the ship. As darkness fell the team then returned to collect 16 bales of cocaine, which have a wholesale value of approximately £12,000,000. The drugs were then passed on to American law enforcement officials aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Thetis.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:

This underlines the strength and global reach of our Royal Navy. Backed by a rising defence budget, the Navy plays a key role in tackling the global drugs trade, while delivering reassurance to Britain’s overseas territories.

Mersey, a Portsmouth-based River Class patrol ship left the UK in January for a seven-month deployment of the North Atlantic.

HMS Mersey’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard Hewitt said:

I am delighted with HMS Mersey’s contribution to this substantial drugs bust, this was an excellent team effort from both my crew and the three nations involved.

Crown Copyright.
Crown Copyright.

from Ministry of Defence – Activity on GOV.UK

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April 15, 2016 7:35 pm

no mention of the “global reach” of Mersey’s RIB in the Canadian media coverage. btw HMCS Summerside is a 55m , 950 ton patrol vessel with a 40mm cannon vice Mersey’s 20mm. I guess Canadian fisheries need a bigger bullet to protect them…

April 15, 2016 8:54 pm

A few days ago when the Navy bought some rubber dinghies ..

“These innovative boats will play a vital role in the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, working from our new aircraft carriers and right across the fleet conducting anti-piracy, counter narcotics, and rescue missions around the world.

“Our growing defence budget means we can invest in a bigger Royal Navy and sustain jobs in Portsmouth and the local area.”

Senior Moment
Senior Moment
April 15, 2016 9:31 pm

Just looked up the drugs bust on HMS Mersey’s web page on the Royal Navy website. It doesn’t register.
We need to rename the entire River Class (plus the new ones) as Corvettes- that way the Royal Navy gets a whole new class of ships , Nicola Sturgeon gets to say the UK cannot do without Scotland’s shipbuilding capacity and the Daily Telegraph readers congratulate Cameron and Osbourne on their Stirling efforts to rebuild the UK as a global superpower.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
April 16, 2016 3:36 am

“HMCS Summerside is a 55m , 950 ton patrol vessel with a 40mm cannon vice Mersey’s 20mm. I guess Canadian fisheries need a bigger bullet to protect them…”

Must be them whales………

April 16, 2016 9:21 am

It’s a good job nonetheless, media team be damned or be praised.

April 16, 2016 9:34 am

That the output of MoD media and PR should be limited by ‘reality’ is not part of their remit one supposes, and perhaps that is necessary. But it is problematic for assessing real capacity and informed debate, never mind the ‘truth’ behind specific reports.

April 16, 2016 4:00 pm

An equally valid view, that a lot of RN Officers I know have expressed is that the OPV is the perfect vessel for the Windies. They are more akin to the ships our friends aspire to operate, making training more relevant, and most importantly being able to enter and moor inside harbours that an Escort couldnt do.

Its not about the size of the hull, but the relevance of the effect its going to have – the OPV is perfect for the Windies role and it should have been done years ago.

April 16, 2016 4:22 pm


So the complete absence of a flight-deck or hangar for a helicopter, or even facilities for something like Scan-Eagle isn’t a problem then, despite also only being able to do 20kn vs the much higher speeds of power boats often used by drug-runners in the area?

What also about the lack of any aerial capability (let alone internal space on the ship itself) for humanitarian aid?

April 16, 2016 4:34 pm

“So the complete absence of a flight-deck or hangar for a helicopter, or even facilities for something like Scan-Eagle isn’t a problem then, despite also only being able to do 20kn vs the much higher speeds of power boats often used by drug-runners in the area?”

To be honest no – when there is an RFA in the area they can, and do, fill that role. Frankly there are better uses for a frigate than chasing a small rigid raider about with drugs on it. If we intercept them then brilliant, but ultimately its not going to make much material difference to the war on drugs.

What also about the lack of any aerial capability (let alone internal space on the ship itself) for humanitarian aid?”

Note that in the key HADR season, you’ll usually see an RFA Bay or Tanker on station to support the OPV – the hurricane season though is fairly predictable. Again, why send a frigate tooled up for a HADR mission thats exceptionally unlikely to occur at this time of year.

We need to get out of the mentality that only a frigate will do.

April 16, 2016 5:36 pm

Actually Challenger, our old patrol boats didn’t have a flight deck or helo either but they still did their job fairly well. I admit, the inclusion of aerial capability is very useful but from the looks of it, tonnage requirements go up by about 1,000 tons if you slap a landing pad on a ship, so it is all about tradeoffs. Helo capability or compact and light weight.

As for dodgy media reports, I remember one rather glowing article in the USN lauding the participation of a certain ship, whose name I can’t bring to mind immediately, in RIMPAC, only to be found out later that the ship suffered an unexpected engineering casualty and did not even make it to the exercise. They pre-wrote the article and published it without even checking. I’ll see if I can exhume the article.

April 16, 2016 6:33 pm

Nothing to do with needing a bigger bullet to defend them, but all to do with the Canadian Government being cheap when it comes to defence procurement (nothing new there then)!

The Kingston class is fitted with reconditioned WW2 vintage 40mm Bofors L/60 MK5c, the MK5c designation is due to the WW2 expediant measure of mounting the 40mm gun on a twin 20mm Oerlikion MKVc. They are totally obsolete lacking modern fire control or targeting capabilities and have to be manually loaded. They were reused for the Kingston class and they are included in the list of inadequacies the RCN themselves state the class has. They regard the Kingston class as too small and slow to perform their core takings and the planned midlife update was canned in favor of designing a new replacement.

They are an embarrassment to Canada and the RCN!

April 18, 2016 9:50 am

Whilst I accept jim30’s view that either a RFA will be in the area for Airborne and HADR missions the fact is the Rivers are being deployed without them. I can not see on a ship the size of the Rivers Batch 1’s an armed drone could not be launched and recovered. Something with a lightweight missile plus Cameras etc could easily be deployed quite cheaply as there are many civilian (as evidenced by yesterdays incident at Heathrow) designs that launch and land vertically.
On the Batch 2 & 3 Rivers we have a flight deck, mounting a retractable hanger and flying a small (Wasp Size Aircraft) from them permanently can not be to difficult. The work carried out in the Pacific by the small Civilian Helicopter deployed from a Billionaires yacht last year shows the utility of even a small Helicopter (maybe on a civilian outsourced contract).
The fact is the Rivers for there size are woefully under armed. Every other Navy in the World at this size managers a descent Gun upto 76mm, Short Range Anti Ship Rockets, a decent search radar and other equipment.
We seem to have spent double the cost of anything else and got a lightly armed Fisheries vessel ! Because the RN Admirals are cr**ing themselves that somebody within Parliament points out that we don’t always need an 8,000 Tonne Frigate costing a £1bn to build to chase Drug Smugglers, Gun Runners or Pirates. Your’re getting 6 of these use them !

April 18, 2016 10:31 pm

@The Ginge & Jim30

I still maintain that the optimum solution to fill the role would be to replace the OPV/Frigate and RFA on station with a single converted merchant vessel (in the Argus/Diligence mold) that’s cheap to run and crew but has the size to hangar 1 or more helo’s, host boarding teams, deploy small boats and carry large amounts of humanitarian aid whilst remaining on station all year round.

Unfortunately given that we’re not exactly flush with cash and already have RFA’s languishing in port for long intervals because of a shortage of qualified crew this is currently very much in the ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ column.

The only thing we can do is to make the most of what we’ve got, and as The Ginge pointed out, yes a tanker provides the hanger/flight-deck for whatever aerial assets are required when it’s on station for 4-6 months a year, but what about the rest of the time when (at least currently) we are seeing a lone River class vessel operating with no aviation facilities whatsoever?

With so few ships and such tight budgets i think it’s unacceptable for any RN/RFA vessel to be built without the ability to deploy helicopters or UAV’s, especially when something like a telescopic hangar would be a pretty cheap and easy fix.

In terms of ‘up-gunning’ the problem with a 57 or 76mm is that there isn’t a defined need for such a weapon and it would introduce a whole new caliber of ammo, different supply chain etc.

Something like a Seahawk Sigma would offer a lightweight missile capability for not much additional cost. I definitely think it’s the way we should be going in terms of basic armament for our smaller surface vessels.

April 19, 2016 5:05 am

I think we’re mixing up roles here. Frigates and RFA are meant to do other things and honestly they are way overweight and overspeced for chasing smugglers. They are only doing this for training and to keep busy while there is nothing else going on. If you wanted an anti-smuggling/piracy patrol boat, you won’t even need to get past 500 tons, converted cabin cruisers or speedboats are all you need since 1) the “opposition” doesn’t usually pack RPGs, you can more than make do with 0.5 cal and 25mm 2) the “enemy” comes to you, 3) all the radar in the world isn’t going to help you determine if a ship is a smuggler or an innocent civilian, you still have to go over there and frisk the guy and 4) aircraft are expensive to maintain and support on board ship.

If you wanted me to design a patrol boat, I’d go for a 4-6 man converted speedboat with a stabilized 7.62, 0.5 or 20/25mm and a zodiac/RHIB with basic radar and maybe sonar. You don’t really need much else.

Those frigates and support ships are doing these patrols not because they are designed for it, they are there because there is nothing else going on.