The Lancastrians ruling the waves
“Because it’s Lancaster we put a slant on food so we served fish and chips and mini hotpots. It promotes Lancashire as well as Britain!”
The Lancastrians ruling the waves on HMS Lancaster
By Nigel Thompson
BBC Radio Lancashire
The ever-present threat of hurricanes in this part of the world is brought close to home as you walk around the seafront of Belize City.
Locals here know the serene Caribbean lapping at the shores can quickly turn into an angry mass and with much of the city lying beneath sea level they keep a wary eye out for warnings.
But for a week, there has been another far more welcome addition to the seascape here.
HMS Lancaster, a ‘Duke’ class Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy, known as “The Queen’s Frigate”, has been anchored off-shore ending a gap of over six years since the last RN deployment here.
It is here as part of the Navy’s Atlantic Patrol North, covering a vast area and including visits to British territories to provide training and offer humanitarian aid should nature hit out.
In Belize the reduction in UK military training and the effect on the country’s economy is a main talking point. An army brigade was once stationed here; in a country of just 300,000, the impact was significant.
Peter Hughes, the newly-appointed British High Commissioner, is keen to make more of the UK’s links to a country he says is ripe for development.
“The problem Belize faces is it is isolated within the region. It doesn’t fit into central America because it speaks English; it doesn’t fit into the Caribbean because it’s in central America.”
Crime is a problem here and he identifies security as one of several areas where the UK could do more to help.
“They’ve got an internal security problem because there’s been a huge wave of crime, (the government) they’re getting it under control but it’s much worse than it should be.
“We’re going to do what we can to help them reform the police force and restructure the judiciary.”
Offshore, the Caribbean is a main route for drugs passing from central America into Mexico and the US and Europe.
In August HMS Lancaster made headlines around the world when crew and an embedded group of US Coastguards – the Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments or Ledets – seized 22 bales (680kg) of pure cocaine worth £100m when they boarded a speedboat near Puerto Rico.
The speedboat was initially spotted by US Customs and Border Agency aircraft but it was Lancaster’s Lynx helicopter that was launched and, along with high-speed pursuit boats, intercepted the speedboat with three suspected smugglers on board.
Lt Oliver Bekier, 24, from Bacup, who was steering the ship that day recalls the seizure.
“My job was to keep the ship beneath the horizon so we didn’t spook the vessel. If they get wind of us being in the area they could ditch the drugs. It was a team effort.”
Among the significant number of Lancastrians on board is Lee Hill from Blackpool, who has served in the Navy since 1984.
The the past 30 months has seen him aboard the Red Rose frigate, as Lancaster is also known – the flower being a prominent part of the ship’s crest.
“Because it’s Lancaster we put a slant on food so we served fish and chips and mini hotpots. It promotes Lancashire as well as Britain! To serve on Lancaster was something I wanted to tick off.”
The ship is now back on patrol in the Caribbean as the hunt for 21st century pirates continues.