Around 2,300 UK maritime personnel have taken part in a joint exercise with Albania as part of increasing cooperation…

Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel joined Albanian forces for an exercise which is part of the Royal Navy’s annual deployment of a crisis-focused amphibious task group, the Joint Expeditionary Force Maritime 16 (JEF(M)16).

Several Royal Navy ships played a role in Albanian Lion this week, including the warships HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark.

Albanian Lion, which was taking place for the fifth time, included 250 Albanian Armed Forces personnel and follows Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s visit to Tirana last week to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to work side-by-side with Albania.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "The contribution of maritime forces as well as two Royal Navy warships underlines the UK’s strength at sea and our strong defence partnership with Albania. In Tirana last week I reinforced the UK’s commitment to work with Albania to meet security challenges in the Balkans."

During his recent visit Mr Fallon met Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Defence Minister Mimi Kodheli, and also witnessed British forces participating in joint exercise Joint Effort at the mountain training area of Biza.

For Albanian Lion, the UK also committed Navy vessels RFA Mounts Bay and MV Eddystone, a Tailored Air Group made up of Chinook, Merlin, Wildcat and Apache helicopters, and lead elements of a Royal Marine Commando group, Royal Navy divers and Commando engineers. A small number of Army and Royal Air Force personnel also took part in the exercise.

JEF(M)16 demonstrates the ability the UK has to deploy highly effective maritime forces at short notice, anywhere in the world.

Albanian Lion is part of a series of demanding exercises in the Adriatic and the Gulf, reinforcing the UK’s relationships with allies and ensuring that the task group is ready to respond if called upon.

Commodore Andrew Burns, Commander Amphibious Task Group (COMATG), said: "This exercise is the culmination of a period of focussed preparation at sea, in the UK and in the challenging coastal environment of our NATO ally, Albania. I am hugely impressed by the ingenuity, resilience and professional dedication shown by every sailor, marine, soldier and airman in meeting the objectives for this deployment, and it is always a huge privilege to work alongside our Albanian Armed Forces colleagues."

HMS Bulwark’s commanding officer, Captain James Parkin, said: "The end of this exercise sees HMS Bulwark proven as ready to play her part as the Flagship of the UK Amphibious Task Group, and of the Joint Expeditionary Force, and demonstrates our key role in the Royal Navy’s overarching mission of protecting our nation’s interests, worldwide."

During the JEF(M)16 deployment the maritime Task Group will be joined by further Royal Navy warships and partner nations. In addition to exercises, the UK has over 3,000 military personnel deployed on operations around the world, underlining Britain’s global military footprint.

Albanian troops have also recently participated in Exercise Venerable Gauntlet in Germany, which brought together 3,000 troops from 14 NATO nations in another major exercise before the UK takes its leading role in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2017.