By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Arriving in Brazil from the Caribbean where she was assisting in maritime security against the drug trade, 20,700 tonne helicopter carrier HMS Ocean landed in Rio last week. The largest in the British naval fleet, HMS Ocean then switched roles from security to diplomacy as the UK continues to pursue international relations with the country.
The purpose of the trip was threefold; conducting an amphibious exercise with the Brazilian Marines, hosting a defense industry day with the likes of British Aerospace presenting projects to Brazil’s defense ministry and a security seminar, culminating in the signing of a new defense cooperation agreement between the UK and Brazil.
Around 100 Brazilian Marines joined the Royal Marines on board as soon as HMS Ocean arrived in port on September 9th, and followed the amphibious training exercise on Ilha da Marambaia in Mangaratiba to the West of Rio designed to help foster co-operation between the two navies and share experiences.
Captain Blount said; “It was extremely interesting to learn from the Brazilian Marines how they had dealt with the situation in Haiti, and we also passed on our experiences from operating in Afghanistan. It has been a very busy but rewarding visit… The Royal Marines have been completely impressed by their professionalism – our Marines are among the fittest and best-trained anywhere in the world, and they arrived back from a two day exercise with the Brazilian Marines tired and in need of a good sleep.”
On Tuesday the UK Minister for International Security Gerald Howarth arrived on board to sign a memorandum designed to act as a framework for future cooperation between the two countries. Saying his presence on board marked “a new shift in the relationship between the United Kingdom and Brazil”, he also touched on the long history between the two navies, not just the commercial side, with many of Brazil’s ships being British designed or built, but also harking back as far as the days of Lord Cochrane.
Cochrane, a legend in Latin American sea-faring in Chile and Brazil’s fight against the Portuguese in 1823, was awarded the title of Marquess of Maranhão by Emperor Pedro I of Brazil for his audacious efforts at successfully holding off the aggressors, before the controversial figure returned to Britain in November 1825. Next month marks the 150th anniversary of his death.
The bilateral treaty comes five months after the U.S. signed a similar agreement promising military co-operation and shared technology and training with the Latin America giant, as well as the trading of defense products, but signals the intent of the new coalition Government under David Cameron.
The 200-plus meter HMS Ocean was built in Scotland in 1995, and presently has a company of 370 but can accommodate up to 1,200 men and women. She is designed to house twelve Sea King HC4 Medium Support Helicopters and six Lynx AH7 Helicopters, and receives 360 degree protection from three mounts of Phalanx guns. After Rio the ship continues on to Lagos, Nigeria and Freetown, Sierra Leone.