As Ghana slowly emerge as the centerpiece for maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly in the aftermath of the just concluded IMDEC 2021 event.
The burgeoning need for a robust naval force that can provide all the essential capabilities needed to protect and defend the Ghanaian Republic and the outlining region is now being appreciated.
In the Gulf of Guinea theatre, one navy whose naval service have been at the forefront of providing security alongside Nigeria – the regional power, is Ghana.
Since the early 1990s, Ghana’s naval service have been meeting the maritime threats with its fleet of small littoral patrol vessels.
Capital ships essential for delivering maritime presence in the Gulf of Guinea
With the Gulf of Guinea witnessing a hard power competition manifested at sea in form of naval rivalry, traditional naval operations involving capital warships are now increasingly central for navies in delivering maritime presence.
For instance, for the first time in a long while, navies in the Gulf of Guinea are now requiring general-purpose warships capable of anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine warfare.
On November 2019, Senegal placed an order for three 62 meters Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) from French shipbuilder PIRIOU. The vessels which are the OPV 58 S, a missile armed patrol vessel dedicated to surveillance, identification and intervention missions
Also, the Nigerian Navy aims to replace the former naval flagship Nigerian Navy Ship NNS ARADU with a new general-purpose frigate.
However, such a capable warship would have been within the purview of the Ghanaian Navy.
The Black Star, Ghanaian Navy frigate
In 1965, a 2,300-ton Yarrow Type was ordered by the government of President Nkrumah, intended to also serve as the presidential yacht.
Her Royal Majesty asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what assistance the British Government has agreed to give to the Government of Ghana towards the purchase of a frigate for the Ghana Navy.
Mr. Bottomley responded that the British Government has offered the Government of Ghana a credit of 90 percent of the cost of this vessel.
The warship was laid down by Yarrow Shipbuilders on the River Clyde in Scotland, under the name Black Star. In 1971, following an agreement with the Government of Ghana, the outstanding balance of Black Star’s construction costs was written off by Her Majesty’s Government.
Loss of the Black Star frigate
However, Nkrumah was deposed in a coup in 1966, the frigate still on the slipway was canceled. The new government of Joseph Arthur Ankrah canceled the order due to the excessive cost of around GBP 5 million.
Yarrow completed the ship on its own in the hope that she could be sold to another navy; she was launched without any ceremony in December 1966 and was completed in June 1968.
In 1971, the newly elected Conservative government purchased the ship for the Royal Navy so to provide an indirect subsidy to a vital shipbuilder. The next year, the Black Star was transferred to Portsmouth Dockyard and then to Chatham Dockyard, to be refitted to bring her up to operational standards.
Black Star acquired by the Royal Navy
She was later acquired at no cost by the Royal Navy for active service in 1972 and later commissioned as HMS MERMAID, with a pennant number of F79.
HMS “Mermaid” had a normal refit in 1973–74 for £1036 million, and as a result of the uniqueness of the Black Star frigate now HMS Mermaid, the problem of supporting a ship of her type within the Royal Navy Fleet resulted in the decision to dispose of her.
Subsequently, HMS “Mermaid” was written off by Her Majesty’s Government a year after she was acquired. The new Government of Ghana agreed that they did not want the vessel.
The loans totaling £3,803,148 made to the Ghana Government for the construction of the frigate were converted to grant, and interest totaling £773,772 was waived.
Design of the Black Star
The Black Star (HMS Mermaid) was designed based on the Royal Navy Type 41/Type 61 hull and machinery, but with some modifications according to the requirements of the Ghana Navy.
The hull was flush decked, and the exhausts streamlined into a single funnel as means to somewhat improve its stealthiness.
Extra accommodation areas were fitted in the superstructure and the armament was kept relatively simple to keep the cost down.
Black Star (HMS Mermaid) was armed with a Mark 19 mount fitted with twin 4-inch guns forward of the bridge. There were four single Bofors 40 mm guns around the upper superstructure, and a Squid A/S mortar mounted aft.
Sonar Types 170 and 176 were carried as well as a Plessey AWS-1 radar on the foremast and a navigational radar.
The ship had a displacement of 2,300 tons as standard, had a maximum speed of 24 knots, and a complement of 177 officers and men in Royal Navy service.
Black Star now HMS Mermaid
In the first mission, HMS Mermaid was dispatched to the Far East where she was based in Singapore. Due to Her light armament and minimal sensor equipment, she wasn’t suited for a combat role in Europe but was useful in the Far East providing ‘defense diplomacy’ roles.
Also, during the Vietnam War, HMS Mermaid replaced HMS Chichester (the guardship for Hong Kong) in case British nationals had to be evacuated from Saigon.
After her mission in Singapore, on returning home, she collided with minesweeper HMS “Fittleton” during a NATO exercise, sinking the minesweeper and killing 12 crewmembers.
HMS Mermaid during her service with the Royal Navy used to protect UK trawlers during one of the Cod Wars with Iceland in the 1970s over fishing rights.
The frigate and the Icelandic naval gunboat Baldur came into close contact on the high seas.
After being paid off she helped to conduct trials on a moving target indicator system that helped radar to pick out targets moving against the clutter generated by the surface of the sea.
Her Royal Navy career of only five years ended in early 1977, but she was the last British warship to operate twin 4-inch guns, which had been in service for well over thirty years.
HMS Mermaid sold to Malaysia
In April 1977 HMS Mermaid was then sold to Malaysia as the KD Hang Tuah.
In the Royal Malaysian Navy, the Black Star replaced Hang Tuah, an ex-Loch-class frigate HMS Loch Insh.
For several years Black Star ( now Hang Tuah) served as the flagship of the Royal Malaysian Navy after joining Rahmat as the two most powerful ships of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
In 1992, Hang Tuah became a training ship, and between 1995 and 1997, the ship underwent a major refit, with two new diesel engines being fitted, with a power of 9,928 brake horsepower (7,403 kW) giving a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h).
The refit saw her obsolete 4-inch guns replaced by a Bofors 57 mm gun, and the Limbo anti-submarine mortar and sonars being removed.
Subsequently, Hang Tuah served as a training ship and is assigned to Frigate Squadron 21. The Commanding Officer was Captain Zualkafly bin Haji Ahmad, TLDM.
Today, Hang Tuah has been decommissioned and is now a museum ship in Malaysia.
Current Ghanaian Navy posture
The prestige associated with owning the Black Star is immeasurable, with the loss of the Black Star frigate, Ghana has indeliberately lost a capable capital asset which would have provided a leap in capability to its small navy, especially as the only other frigate in the region; NNS Aradu belongs to Nigeria – a regional ally.
However, presently, Ghana has resolved to plug its capability gap by acquiring several naval vessels in the short and medium-term.
The Ghanaian Defence Minister, Lieutenant General J. H. Smith, announced in June 2010 that over 10 ships would be acquired as part of a short-term plan to re-equip the navy and defend Ghana’s exclusive economic zone.
In addition, while speaking at the opening of the 2nd edition of the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC ‘21) on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, Vice President Bawumia outlined some measures being undertaken by the Government of Ghana, including the acquisition of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Fast Patrol Boats and Crafts, and the construction of forwarding Operating Bases on the coastal frontiers.
Vice President Bawumia said the government will also see to training and welfare of the Naval Personnel to put in their best and to remain professional in the discharge of their duties.