The Navy's oldest squadron knuckled down to business after its brief Christmas break by boarding the first fishing vessel of 2017.
On a cold, clear and calm morning in the North Sea, HMS Severn steamed out of the darkness to put her boarding team on a fishing vessel before sunrise.
Approaching as the first light of day began to illuminate the sea, Sub Lieutenant Robbie Neilson and Leading Chef Nathan 'Pat' Garrett, Severn's senior boarding officer and his assistant, climbed up the swinging vertical ladder on to the vessel's deck to inspect the haul - and ensure crew were abiding by international quotas.
The Royal Navy operates three River-class ships mostly on fishery protection duties around the UK - occasionally sending them further afield to the Caribbean or Mediterranean, where HMS Mersey is currently engaged in preventing people trafficking.
Routine marine enforcement patrols are conducted every month of the year to enforce both UK and EU fisheries legislation to ensure the waters of the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone are used in a sustainable and proper manner - a modern-day version of a mission to protect Britain's fishermen going back to the late 14th Century.
In 2017, Severn opened the squadron's account with inspections on her first two days on the 'eastern patrol', which concentrates on activities in the North Sea. Lieutenant Chris Poulson, Severn's second-in-command explained:
"Everyone on board has a part to play, not just the boarding teams and their sea boat crews who spend hours away from the ship in all weathers,"
"Everyone is involved from the bridge team who manoeuvre Severn in close proximity to fishing vessels and the marine engineers who maintain the boats to ensure they're in tip-top condition, to the weapon engineers who keep the radars turning and the chefs who never seem to leave the galley."
On returning from a six-hour boarding in cold, murky conditions, Sub Lieutenant Neilson from Stirling in Scotland said,
"It's good be back on fish! They're long days - especially when you're keeping watch overnight as well - but it's our core business."
Lieutenant Poulson admits that the duties of the squadron - nicknamed the Cod Squad by the rest of the Fleet - "may not be the most glamorous tasks the Royal Navy undertakes, but we in Severn enjoy them as we are at sea doing our operational role day in, day out."
Typically the ships spend a couple of weeks on patrol before returning to port to take supplies on board and change some of the crew, rotation which allows the HMS Severn and her sisters Tyne and Mersey to be at sea as many as 300 days a year.
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