British Navy ship Renews Old Maritime Friendship

UK Royal Navy Ship HMS Spey has arrived in Sihanoukville on Monday Feb 13, 2023 for a 5-day visit. Photo: UK Embassy in Cambodia

PREAH SIHANOUK – A British Royal Navy ship has arrived in Cambodia for the first time since 1958 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Cambodia-UK diplomatic relations and to build a strong foundation of maritime and defense engagement.

Docked at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Feb. 13, the HMS Spey began the five-day visit in Preah Sihanouk province, hoping to share and exchange maritime safety training with the Cambodian Navy.

The arrival was welcomed by the Cambodian Royal Navy, the British Ambassador Dominic Williams, and Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities.

Several previous planned visits by the ship were put off because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The purpose of the visit is to form a strong foundation between the UK and Cambodian navies.

Ambassador Williams said the visit was a goodwill gesture and there would be a lot of interactions as both navies had not had extensive contacts before.

Preah Sihanouk province is an important economic pole of Cambodia, and it is an exciting plan for the development of the port, he said.

As the UK had a lot of expertise in maritime issues, there was potential for both countries to strengthen defense engagement.

One reason was that the UK believed in the centrality of ASEAN, which played an important role in supporting security and stability in Southeast Asia.

While increasing defense cooperation across the region, the UK considered this as a sign of the desire to do more in terms of defense engagement with Cambodia, one of the ASEAN member states.

“I think we can expect to see more cooperation, more training, more engagement and more contacts because it is important for the navy-to-navy relationship,” the ambassador said.

Welcomed by the Cambodian Royal Navy, the ship captain Commander Michael Proudman said the meeting formed the basis for a strong relationship between the UK and Cambodian navies.

“Being a sailor or a mariner gives you an immediate bond — brother and sisterhood. We all understand the sea. We understand how to operate [the ships]; we understand how to do it safely. That gives us an immediate connection with the Cambodian navy,” the captain said.

Colonel Jamie Murray, the UK defence attache to Cambodia, said that despite the 65-year gap, the visit is a new beginning for the countries to develop their navies’ capability with training and friendly engagement.

“All of the signs we’ve had so far are positives. We will explore opportunities to train together, to potentially bring some Cambodian navy students back to the UK to train on a range of assets and platforms,” Colonel Murray added.

From their perspective, the Cambodian navy plays an important role in safeguarding and guaranteeing the country’s sea territory, maintaining the area to keep it safe and enable trade to flow freely, and in sustaining peace and security with regional partners.

Everyone was looking forward to a football match and shore visits as well as exchanging ship safety training.

“We’ll show the Cambodian navy how we do our business, how we train on the sea, particularly with the focus on damage control, which is a part of our training to keep us safe as well as to deal with any incidents,” the captain said.

The role and mission of the ship

HMS Spey is an offshore patrol vessel. It features a catalytic reduction systems to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by up to 97% to recycle clean water back into the ocean. The ship is one of the greenest ships in the UK Royal Navy.

The Captain Proudman said the ship’s role is for constabulary maritime security, mainly countering illegal fishing and stopping drug and people smuggling, as well as to support operations that sustain the environment and support marine biodiversity.

Weighing 2,000 tonnes, the ship is 90.4 meters long, 13.5 meters wide, and 4.3 meters deep. The ship, with 70 crew, has been sailing for over a year in the Indo-Pacific region and has cooperated with many partners in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, and many more.

Among the sailors, 10-to-12 percent are women. The ship makes sure to be capable of accommodating males and females. No jobs in the Royal Navy are closed to women.

“We are really deliberated in trying to open every industry to males and females, regardless of colors, race, or sexual orientation,” the captain said, adding that it was also the privilege to be able to present the job in the navy to the students here to understand such a rewarding career that is available for them in the future.

The ambassador said gender should not be an obstacle to serving or protecting the country.

“The respectful women soldiers and what they have been able to achieve in the military demonstrates the value of having an equal-gender workforce,” he said.

The UK Royal Navy welcomed high school students to tour the ship. Photo: UK Embassy in Cambodia.

A possible future visit

Another ship to visit Cambodia is possible for more engagement but no date has been set.

“We’ll explore the opportunity to bring another UK ship here again as soon as we can. This won’t be the last visit,” Colonel Murray said.

“We’ll start with people-to-people links between both countries’ navies.”

By knowing each other better and understanding each other’s needs, both sides would be able to develop an action plan to drive forward engagement.

Ambassador Williams said it was about establishing practical operational contact and supporting the efforts the UK has made in the ASEAN region to grow defense cooperation.

“I hope there will be a next time,” he said. “We will not be wasting another 65 years for a ship to visit Cambodia again.”

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