UK sends flagship for joint naval drills with Cyprus, France
LIMASSOL, Cyprus (AP) — Britain flexed its naval muscles in its largest deployment off Cyprus in decades, to make its presence felt in the volatile region and underscore what officials said was the country’s post-Brexit commitment to buttressing Europe’s security.
A three-ship strike force centered around the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Albion on Tuesday conducted joint maneuvers with a Cypriot patrol vessel and helicopters and the French frigate Jean Bart off the coastal town of Limassol.
The main part of the exercise involved Cypriot special forces and British Royal Marines boarding a supposedly hijacked ship by fast-roping down from hovering helicopters while small, highly maneuverable speed boats came alongside the vessel.
“This is the U.K. doing its part to prove our commitment to European safety and security whilst working with our NATO allies and partners,” Deputy Strike Force Commander Capt. Phil Dennis told the Associated Press.
British military officials said the joint training with Cypriot forces also illustrated a joint commitment to regional stability and a determination to further strengthen a bilateral defense relationship.
“Cyprus is a very important partner for the UK in the eastern Mediterranean and the Mediterranean region in general,” Capt. Dennis said, adding that the exercise offered “a great chance for us to see and experience the understanding and knowledge of each other.”
The U.K. retained two military bases on Cyprus after the eastern Mediterranean island gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.
The exercise comes amid continued tensions with neighboring Turkey over rights to prospect and drill for oil and gas around war-divided Cyprus.
The 20,400-ton HMS Albion, with a 400-person crew, is an amphibious assault ship that can quickly deploy Royal Marines on land through its Wildcat helicopters or a pair of landing craft.
Officials said the deployment that included the air defense destroyer HMS Dragon also afforded personnel the opportunity to experiment with new, high-tech tools that could assist troops to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Those tools include a powerful drone that can carry up to 150 pounds (70 kilograms) of supplies or ammunition to frontline troops.