Royal Navy warships begin World Cup security mission

Royal Navy warships have begun their world cup security mission, spending the next two months safeguarding the waters around host nation Qatar.

Three minehunters, plus their mothership, will remain in and around Qatar and Central Gulf until Christmas as part of the Qatari-led international security effort.

His Majesty’s Ships Chiddingfold and Bangor will conduct round-the-clock patrols of the sea lanes leading to the Gulf state, using state-of-the-art sonar and underwater remote-controlled devices to locate and identify mines or bombs, and use either clearance divers or the Seafox submersible to render the contact harmless by safely blowing it up. HMS Middleton will remain on standby to provide additional support if needed.

The ships have spent the weeks leading up to the tournament, which opened yesterday (20 Nov 2022) mapping key sea lanes – the sonar is powerful enough to pick out contacts as small as a can of cola – making it easier to identify any recent changes or anomalies.

In addition, the British trio will support the broader security mission at sea, generally keeping an eye out for suspicious or unusual activity.

Their actions will be directed from support vessel RFA Cardigan Bay, which will act as command ship throughout the tournament with a specialist battle staff of minehunting experts.

Commander Adrian Visram, who is overseeing the Royal Navy effort with his staff, says his team has a wealth of experience to draw upon to help ensure the contentious world cup runs smoothly.

“Our minehunting force has been out here for 16 years keeping the sea routes open: the continuing flow of trade and energy during these tumultuous times is even more vital to UK interests,” he says.

“It is an immense privilege to command the Royal Navy’s support to the FIFA World Cup, building upon the strong defence relationship between Qatar and the UK. This demonstrates our commitment to working with international allies and partners to protect against threats overseas and promote our values.”

The mission – involving more than 200 personnel and overseen from Bahrain – is part of a broader security operation by the UK’s armed forces, all working with the Qataris, to ensure the world cup passes off peacefully.

World cup controversy

The tournament is already mired in controversy for its host nation’s stance on same-sex relationships, poor human rights record and mistreatment of migrant workers, says The Week in a round-up of moral quandries.

For example, a Qatar world cup ambassador has described homosexuality as ‘damage in the mind’. Foreign secretary James Cleverly advised visiting LGBTQ+ fans to ‘be respectful of the host nation’ and to employ ‘a little bit of flex and compromise’ when visiting the country.

“But what does this flex and compromise actually mean?” David Aaronovitch asks in The Times. “That if gay football fans promise not to behave in too Pride-ish a way, then the authorities generously agree not to arrest them or rough them up?”

The treatment of migrant labourers in Qatar has also been in the spotlight, with Qatar labour practices ‘compared to modern slavery’ says Roger Bennett and Tommy Vietor, writing for CNN. A reported 6,500 South Asian migrant workers have died since the nation was awarded the tournament in 2010, they say, with experts suggesting ‘it is likely a lot of these deaths are related to construction of buildings for the tournament’.

Players have felt some pressure too, and several national team captains, including England’s Harry Kane, will now wear ‘OneLove’ armbands during matches to ‘promote diversity and inclusion’ according to the BBC. But it is ‘baffling’ to pretend that ‘the odd discreet rainbow armband on a player’ can be regarded as ‘constructive engagement’ with the LGBTQ+ and human rights issues raised in the run-up to this ‘obscene’ world cup, argues Sam Leith in The Spectator. “It’s not too late for musicians, sponsors and even – above all – football players to say: stuff Qatar, and stuff Fifa’s way of doing business.”

Main image: Qatari Emiri Naval Forces officer greets RN staff.

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