NATO minehunting flotilla sweeps in to Belfast
A flotilla of NATO ships that has been making safe mines left in the Baltic Sea during the two World Wars is visiting Belfast this weekend.
Last night six vessels were docked close to the SSE Arena at Queen's Quay, with a further two set to join them.
The ships, which are part of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, were most recently participating in a training exerise in the North Sea. They bring with them almost 250 sailors into the city for a weekend of relaxation, and to allow for resupply before their next posting off northern France.
The vessels had been taking part in the UK's exercise Joint Warrior in waters off Scotland
They include Latvian coastal minelayer and command ship LVNS Virsaitis; Estonian minehunter ENS Sakala; German minehunter FGS Sulzbach-Rosenberg; Norwegian minesweeper HNoMS Rauma; Belgian minehunter BNS Primula, and Dutch minehunter HNLMS Makkum.
Group Commander Gvido Laudups of the Latvian Navy told members of the media yesterday that this was his first trip to Belfast and he was looking forward to seeing some of the city's sights.
He described how the ships had been working in the Baltic earlier this year searching for mines and other explosive devices remaining from the First and Second World Wars, which can pose a danger to trawlers.
"They (mines) are still there and we are trying to clear the area, but we are also battle ready," he said. The flotilla will remain in Belfast until Monday.