ROYAL NAVY EN PALMA

TWO Royal Navy minesweepers braved the snow and the high winds and sailed into Palma yesterday for a brief courtesy visit. The Grimsby and the Ledbury are in the Mediterranean conducting exercises with the French Navy but they also form part of the Royal Navy's Gulf Task Force which is on standby in case there are any developments in the Iraqi crisis. A French minesweeper is moored alongside them at the Porto Pi naval base. Commander Peter Lambourn, who heads the small force, said yesterday “we have been planning for these exercises with the French for more than six months. We have a very good relationship with their Navy.” With almost 20 warships forming part of the Gulf Task Force plus all the other duties the Navy is involved with, Commander Lambourn said that their resources were stretched but stressed that the Royal Navy was more than capable of meeting any challenges which may lie ahead. Eventhough the crews of the two ships are facing a possible war with Iraq the Commander of the group said that morale was high. “The average age of the crews (which number about 80 on both vessels) is 24. We naturally keep them informed of all developments and we offer a regular news bulletin. We also have e-mail so that they can keep in contact with home.” Many were hoping to get a sun-tan in Majorca but their dreams disappeared as soon as they saw the snow descending on Palma when they docked yesterday morning. The conditions in Palma were nothing compared to the Bay of Biscay and Commander Lambourn admitted that both the Ledbury and Grimsby were lively vessels in rough seas. Lt. Commander Paul Brown, who commands the Grimsby, admitted that crossing the Biscay had been more than fun. The Royal Navy prides itself on its minesweeping skills and Commander Lambourn admitted that if any conflict did break out his ships would be at the forefront. The Ledbury is a Hunt class minesweeper while the Grimsby belongs to the new Sandown class. They are both very well equipped to deal with any sort of mines. During the last Gulf war vessels of the Hunt class actually lead the U.S. fleet through a suspected minefield. As a result they received much praise from U.S. admirals because at the time the U.S. Navy had no minesweeping assets. Both ships are equipped with the revolutionary PAP remote controlled submersible which can both detect and destroy mines. Each ship also has a complement of divers, who using plastic explosives, can also destroy mines.