One of the four frigates of the Navy makes its entry into the port of Malaga, this Friday.

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One of the four frigates of the Navy makes its entry into the port of Malaga, this Friday. Marilú Báez

The Spanish Navy sails into Malaga: what these floating giants are really like

The ships Santa María, Numancia, Reina Sofía and Navarra have docked in Malaga port, where visitors can see what life is like on one of these vessels

Friday, 26 January 2024, 20:56


Muelle 2, Malaga Port. Four giants have made their entry this Friday. Their names are Santa María, Numancia, Reina Sofía and Navarra but they are not ordinary vessels. The guns reveal that they are war frigates. They belong to the Spanish Navy. Specifically, to the 41st Escort Squadron based in Rota (Cadiz). And if anyone wants to know what a warship looks like from the inside, you can see for yourself this Saturday or Sunday.

Life on board is, above all, cramped. To walk through one of these warships is to walk through a labyrinth of corridors not suitable for the claustrophobic. You can tell it must be tough. Cadets are organised in shifts. Geopolitical instability forces them to go on missions that always involve a certain amount of risk. On deck, there is bright sunshine. Inside, however, everything is narrow and dark.

The captain of the frigate Santa María is Ernesto Grueso. He wears several insignia on his lapel and a tan that suggests many hours of work in the open air. When asked if he perceives that the current geopolitical situation makes his job more dangerous, he answers without hesitation: "I am quite calm." He does not deny the instability but is confident in the Navy's ability to do its job well.

The four frigates that can now be seen in Malaga come from several days of exercises and manoeuvres in the Gulf of Cadiz. Training for war so that they know about war in case it comes. On board, a walk through the narrow passageways of the Santa María, which weighs 3,900 tonnes, suggests a routine that hardly differs from one day to the next. Whoever is below deck does not see the light of day. Privacy? Basically non-existent. Leisure opportunities? Few.

Whoever joins the Navy also signs up for a mission. At the moment it is called 'Operation Atalanta'. A fight against piracy at sea off the Horn of Africa, where the words "fire" and "boarding" are used if necessary. The thought that one's own life could be at stake is approached with a certain prosaism: one thinks about it but has learned to live with it.

The deck feels bigger once you step on it than it does from the dock. Half a football pitch. It is a January day that looks like something off a postcard. The sea is calm and there is no wind. At sea, this can change in a few minutes, like on a roller coaster. Captain Grueso repeats the word "safety" several times.

Knowing what the inner life of the crew of the Santa Maria is like is complicated. At war, as the cliché goes, there is little room for emotions. However a taste of life on the frigates can be had this weekend in Malaga.

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