Fun for all the family... as Nato warships berth in Dublin

‘I think it’s brilliant... my son loves boats, absolutely loves boats,’ says mother of three

Nineteen NATO nations contributed navy and marine forces to Trident Juncture in 2015, the Alliance’s biggest and most ambitious exercise in over a decade. Video: NATO

 

Ah yes. Our gallant allies in Europe have arrived at last. A tad late maybe. But, hey! They’re here. Led by the German navy’s FGS Donau, the Nato flotilla is under German navy Commander Martin Schwarz.

The convoy of six Nato warships also includes the German navy’s FGS Dillingen, with HNLMS Vlaardingen from the Netherlands, BNS Primula from Belgium, HNONS Otra from Norway, and the HMS Ramsey from the UK flying the Tricolour. All flying the Tricolour, and their own national flags.

Yes, a Dublin taxi driver got there before us. A member of that omniscient class informed Lt David Rigsby and Sub Lt Mike Hughes of HMS Ramsey (on Friday) night that the last time a British warship was in the Liffey it levelled half of Dublin.

The taximan was referring, with some licence, to the gunship Helga, which bombarded central Dublin from the Liffey during Easter Week 1916.

HMS Ramsey and its crew come in peace and have no such intent.

Historic mines

The primary role of the six-ship Standing Nato Mine Counter Measures Group is the location and destruction of historic mines in the seas around Europe. It is estimated that during the two World Wars as many as 200,000 mines, torpedoes and bombs were placed in northern European seas, mostly in the Baltic and the North Sea.

Their visit to Dublin this weekend was “just coincidental” with Easter Rising commemorations, said the German navy’s Lt Henning Hauser, public affairs officer on flagship FGS Donau.

He told The Irish Times: “We didn’t know until four weeks ago, when I first came to Dublin to talk with Foreign Affairs ministry. They told us.”

Their’s was “a courtesy visit, mainly for rest and relaxation for the crew [of about 250],” he said. There had been “no difficulty,” about six Nato ships docking in Dublin despite Ireland’s neutrality.

Ireland is part of the partnership for peace and we made it clear that we would come in not flying Nato the flag but as friends, and that wasn’t a problem,” Lt Hauser said.

Courtesy call

On Saturday they paid a courtesy call to Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Críona Ní Dhálaigh, and hosted a reception on Saturday night on FGS Donau for “guests from different embassies and also the Irish military”, he said.

On board HMS Ramsey, Lt Rigsby (from Bristol) and Sub Lt Hughes (from Slough) explained how earlier this year the flotilla had been on exercises in the Baltic Sea where they crossed the 98km Kiel canal, which links the Baltic with the North Sea.

They said carrying out exercises together was good for the different European navies involved. It helped them to understand how each other operates, and to overcome language differences.

Visitor numbers were small on Saturday but enthusiastic, even while clambering up steep, narrow steps not designed for an increasingly overweight Irish population. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, even if the weather matched the grey of the ships.

Young families made up most of the curious, such as the productive pair Clare and Wayne with their three children Seán (3), Saoirse (2), and Zac (1).

‘A bit risky’

Clare is originally from Baldoyle but living in Meath. She had been on FGS Donau but was waiting on the dock with Saoirse and Zac (in a buggy) while Wayne and Seán explored another ship. It was “a bit risky” for the buggy, she said.

Clare was clear about visiting the ships. “I think it’s brilliant. My partner is a scuba diver. My son loves boats, absolutely loves boats. He watches Fireman Sam... They have a boat and everything. He even said today ‘I want to be a sailor’ earlier on, and I said ‘O my God it’s so sweet.’ He said ‘I love these boats’.”

Two older men were a bit more sanguine. They preferred not to give their names as they made their way from one ship to another. “What’s there to talk about, just young lads and boats?” said one. Then, in an unexpected burst of enthusiasm, he added, “Did you know there are 200,000 historic mines out there?”

Berthed at the East Link Bridge, near the 3Arena, the six ships were open from 2pm to 4pm on Saturday, and will be at the same times on Sunday.

They leave on Monday.