Warship HMS Dauntless Sets Sail For Falklands

Mark Stone, defence reporter

The Royal Navy's most advanced warship has set sail from Portsmouth for a six-month deployment to the Falkland Islands.

HMS Dauntless, a Type 45 destroyer, was waved off by the families and friends of the 190-strong crew from a sunny vantage point overlooking the ancient harbour.

The ship will be responsible for patrolling the waters around the islands in the South Atlantic.

She sets sail at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between the UK and Argentina heightened diplomatic tensions between the UK and Argentina.

The Ministry of Defence insists the deployment is routine. The ship is part of a rotation in which another ship, HMS Montrose, a smaller, less sophisticated frigate, will return home from the South Atlantic.

The warship's departure from Portsmouth comes exactly 30 years after a naval task force of more than 120 ships set sail from the same port to retake the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion in 1982.

Among those watching the departure and waving a Union flag was Gemma Woodford whose younger brother Oliver Clarke is one of Dauntless' crew.

She said: "It's more emotional than I thought. I am proud of him because he was a bit worried himself I think."

Oliver Clarke's mother Tracy was emotional too.

"Very emotional," she said.

"It's a milestone because his Dad was in the Navy and he went out to the Falklands just after it was taken."

Tracy said the deployment had been made harder by the renewed tensions between Britain and Argentina.

"It has been, yes because it does worry you what's going on out there and is there going to be any more upset and anything happening, but hopefully they will go out there and come back safely."

The Argentine Government has accused the United Kingdom of 'militarising' the South Atlantic in recent months. It is a charge both the British Government and the local Falklands government reject.

Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, the Argentine President said in February that "this militarisation poses a grave danger to international security".

Reacting to the recent deployment of Prince William to the islands as a search and rescue pilot, President Kirchner said: "We cannot interpret in any other way the deployment of an ultra-modern destroyer accompanying the heir to the throne, who we would prefer to see in civilian attire."

A Downing Street spokeswoman responded to the accusation saying: "We are not militarising the South Atlantic, our military posture remains the same."

This is the first operational for HMS Dauntless since she was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 2010.

For the past year the ship has been put through a period of sea trials and training to prepare her for operations.

The ship's Commanding Officer, Captain Will Warrender, said: "HMS Dauntless' ship's company has been working extremely hard over the last year or so to prepare for our first operational deployment. We are now ready to provide a reassuring presence in the region and protect British interests."

In a statement, the Royal Navy said: "The Type 45 destroyer will maintain a continuous presence protecting British interests in the region, carrying out maritime security operations off West Africa and the wider South Atlantic."

The ship has planned visits to ports in west African countries as well as a visit to South Africa.

Her primary roll though will be to maintain a security presence for the Falkland Islands amid the ongoing sovereignty dispute between Britain and Argentina.

On Monday, President Kirchner marked the 30th anniversary of the 1982 war by calling Britain's stance on the issue "absurd".

Speaking at a memorial service at the Monument to the Fallen in Ushuaia, Southern Argentina, President Kirchner said: "It's absurd that they maintain sovereignty over islands that are 14,000 km away. Las Malvinas [The Falklands] are a national, South American and global cause. All Argentina is asking for is dialogue."

Britain has repeatedly said it is happy to enter into a dialogue but will not discuss the issue of sovereignty.

"Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future." David Cameron said on Monday.

"That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago: and that is the principle which we solemnly reaffirm today."

The ship's main weapon is the Sea Viper missile . It provides all-round defence, not just for Dauntless but for an entire naval task group at a range of up to 70 miles. The Sea Viper can reach speeds of more than 3,000mph.

British military sources insist that the Argentines no longer have the military ability to re-invade the Falkland Islands by force and the Argentine Government insists it has no intention of re-invading islands.

However, the deployment of HMS Dauntless to an already heavily-defended group of islands illustrates that, 30 years on, tensions remain very high.