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Atoll do nicely… Trenchant submariners help marine life experts on island paradise
1 November 2012

Submariners from HMS Trenchant helped environmentalists research giant turtles on an Indian Ocean atoll as they took a break after a lengthy patrol.

The hunter-killer paid a rare visit to the remote British overseas territory of Diego Garcia, tagging rare marine life and celebrating the traditional naval ceremony of Crossing the Line.

YOU can never have too many images of a giant turtle carrying a satellite transmitter on its shell toddling towards the sea…

This is Chloe, a green turtle, returning to the azure waters of the Indian Ocean after submariners from HMS Trenchant helped marine life experts with an environmental project on the island paradise of Diego Garcia.

Enjoying a six-day break on the remote atoll after the latest patrol in their lengthy east of Suez deployment, the 130 crew of the Devonport-based hunter-killer were the first British submariners to call in at the base in five years – and made the most of it.

While the boat was stocked up on supplies and underwent a spot of maintenance, some of her crew offered to help Swansea University researchers Professor Graeme Hays and Nicole Esteban who are studying the behaviour and population of turtles in the British Indian Ocean Territory. 

By day the deeps joined in expeditions to find and tag indigenous hawksbill turtles, by night they sought to tag migratory green turtles, like Chloe, which return to the island every few years to lay their eggs.

Turtle recall... Lt Cdr Dan Simmonds handles a hawksbill turtle at Turtle Cove

Swansea native LS(CIS) Gareth Arnold thoroughly enjoyed the chance of working beside academics from his home town on a unique project. “The experience of working at night with the team was amazing and I would like to thank them again for letting us take part,” he said.

The boat’s Commanding Officer Cdr Irvine Lindsay joined the daytime tagging party, helping to recovery of one the largest turtles during the trip, taking it one of the measuring stations established at Turtle Cove, where various readings were recorded and the animal was tagged.

“I have been lucky enough to get involved in an international research project investigating the lives of sea turtles,” he said. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

A normal, everyday snapshot of life in the junior rates' mess on the boat...

Although it’s principally a US naval and air base, Diego Garcia is UK soil with a small contingent of British military personnel, led by Cdr Richard Marshall, the Commander British Forces on BIOT.

After a protracted period of sea the visit finally allowed the men of Trenchant to carry out the traditional ceremony of Crossing the Line – the island is seven degrees south of the Equator.

More than 60 novices who’d never crossed the imaginary line before, including the ship’s mascot Cadet Echo the Duck, were summoned to appear before the court of King Neptune (played by the captain) and his retinue: Queen Amphitrite, the king’s messenger, policemen, surgeon, barber and a fearsome set of bears who were fully intent on completing his majesty’s bidding.

King Neptune - aka Cdr Irvine Lindsay, Trenchant's CO - with members of his court before the Crossing the Line ceremony

“It was an amazing ceremony – the ship’s company entered into the spirit of the day and King Neptune was proud of the zeal and fervour generated by this long standing Naval tradition,” said the king.

“My troop prepared a celebration of epic proportions, my sadness in not achieving the ritual on the Equator has been cancelled out by the tremendous surroundings and organisation of today’s events. This was possibly the most memorable of all Crossing the Line ceremonies I have experienced.”

As for the overall visit to the atoll, it was , says Cdr Lindsay, “an ideal location to unwind, play some sport and take in the breathtaking scenery. The visit has proved the ideal opportunity to re-charge our batteries and prepare us for the next stage of our deployment.”

Which is already under way…