UK waters left unprotected by Navy warships in October

HMS Portland
Image caption The last warship to hold the post of Fleet Ready Escort was HMS Portland on 3 October

The UK was not protected by any warships during October, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

The Royal Navy's cutbacks and presence in Libya meant UK waters were without the minimum coverage of a frigate or destroyer as Fleet Ready Escort (FRE).

The last FRE ship, which can react to incidents such as terrorism, was Devon-based HMS Portland on 3 October.

The MoD said although no warship was on FRE duty one could have been allocated within 24 hours.

The FRE is a warship which is ready to react to an emergency, such as a terrorist attack, in UK waters or abroad.

Frigate cuts

But the MoD said cuts to its fleet in the Strategic Defence and Strategy Review (SDSR), which reduced the number of its frigates from 24 to 19, and its commitments to the Nato mission in Libya, had left it unable to fill the role for a month.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: "Due to the successful deployment of Royal Navy units to the Libya campaign, it has been necessary to reprofile the commitments of some ships.

"Should a FRE activation be required, a Royal Navy ship would be allocated."

HMS Portland left the role of FRE on 3 October to take part in the Joint Warrior Nato exercise off Scotland.

The spokesman said that although no ship had been specifically tasked, one of the vessels taking part in the exercise could have responded within 24 hours.

The next FRE will be formally notified on 7 November but if one was required prior to that it would be nominated immediately, the spokesman added.

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