The Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise has made a triumphal return to her baseport of Plymouth today (18 April) after three years on deployment.
A crowd of family and friends lined the jetty cheering and waving banners in HM Naval Base Devonport as the ship berthed. Emotional reunions followed when their loved ones were welcomed on board by the crew who served on a rotational shift basis during the three years, meaning two thirds of the 78 ship’s company have been on board at any one time.
HMS Enterprise was at the heart of operations to prevent people smuggling in the Mediterranean. She evacuated more than 200 British citizens from Libya, rescued 9,180 people attempting to undertake deadly crossings of the Mediterranean and destroyed 117 unseaworthy vessels used by people traffickers.
In almost three years, she has steamed across the world, covered 150,000 nautical miles, visited 20 countries, and navigated four seas while conducting maritime security operations, protecting Britain’s economy and rescuing people in danger. The ship’s work has been recognised with the presentation of various Royal Navy awards, both fleetwide and for the survey squadron for efficiency and engineering and for her humanitarian achievements.
The ship entered Plymouth proudly flying an efficiency pennant – an award given to the ship last year and granted special permission to fly the pennant on her return home.
Chief Petty Officer John Williams joined the ship part way through the deployment. He was ovewhelmed by a warm welcome from his wife Claire, and children Gabby, 15, and son Kane, 19, and Kane’s girlfriend, Jess Lowe. John said: “It’s really good to see my family again and spend more time with them. This is the third time I’ve served on the ship and she’s a great vessel to serve in. It’s been a long time away from her baseport for Enterprise and it’s also good to see her back home. The trophies and accolades we have been awarded are testimony to that.’’
Kane, who is also in the Royal Navy, said: “I don’t see dad much when he is home, let alone when he’s away, or I’m busy at work with the Navy. So it’s extra special to see him come back home after a busy deployment.’’
Petty Officer Stefanie Merlo, 32, the ship’s manpower co-ordinator and ‘policeman’ was greeted by her brother Daniel and his union flag-waving sons Thomas, ten, and James, four, Daniel’s partner Amie Whorton, and Stefanie’s mother Brenda – all the way from Preston. Stefanie said: “It’s lovely to have such a warm welcome, especially from James and Thomas. I Joined the ship in the South Atlantic, so it’s been a long trip back and pretty rough in the Atlantic. It’s been quite an epic achievement by ship and crew.’’
The youngest person on the jetty was five-week-old Isaac, son of the ship’s navigating officer Lieutenant Nicholas Radue who scooped him out of the arms of his wife Alex as soon as they stepped onto the ship. Nicholas said: “It’s wonderful to see little Isaac again. Even though the Navy kindly allowed me home to see him when he was born before I had to rejoin the ship for the journey back – I have missed half of his short life and he is a different boy already!’’
Alex said: “I’m used to seeing Nicholas off and welcoming him home again. But from now on it will all be different with our first child. It makes homecomings extra special for a start.’’
Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mike Penning said:”During her three years deployed away from the UK, HMS Enterprise and her ship’s company have helped make the world a safer place.
“From disrupting people smuggling in the Mediterranean to assisting in the free flow of trade in the Gulf, and from providing reassurance to our overseas territories to surveying the world’s oceans, she has epitomised how the Royal Navy is protecting the UK’s global interests.”
“The crew of HMS Enterprise are justly proud of the work they have done since deploying, and the wide variety of operations will be hard to match in the rest of our careers,” said Commander Philip Harper, the ship’s Commanding Officer.
“The results of our deployment speak for themselves and we are all eager to spend some time with our families before the ship deploys again later this year.”
HMS Enterprise’s deployment began in June 2014, when she headed to the Mediterranean on maritime security operations. At the time, growing unrest in Libya led to the UK government encouraging British citizens to evacuate, and Enterprise was tasked with rescuing more than 200 people from Tripoli.
She was then tasked with conducting survey operations in the Gulf and southern Red Sea, joining the continuous Royal Navy presence in the region which works to secure some of the most vital shipping lanes in the world and protect Britain’s economy.
Those on board had opportunities to visit 33 ports, including Goa in India and Port Victoria in the Seychelles. But there was still work to be done – teams from the ship volunteered to visit an orphanage in Goa, helping to refurbish several classrooms, build some swings and even fix a trampoline.
In 2015, Enterprise joined the naval force in the Mediterranean which was set up to deal with people smuggling in the region. Over the course of the following year, the sailors on board destroyed 117 unseaworthy craft and rescued 9,180 people attempting to make deadly crossings – the highest number of people ever to be rescued by a Royal Navy ship.
She also surveyed some 2,600nm2 of the ocean floor, was awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace, the Naval Capability Prize and the HM Efficiency Award, as well as receiving a personal commendation from the Chief of the Defence Staff.
The survey ship’s work in the Mediterranean also led to 20 suspected smuggling ringleaders being identified and subsequently arrested by Italian authorities.
Following the heat of the Mediterranean it was time for Enterprise to experience the South Atlantic, as she headed south to stand in for Falkland Islands patrol vessel HMS Clyde during her refit in South Africa.
“Having successfully mastered integrating with the Italians and other EU partners, the ship now had to integrate with the RAF and the Army,” said Navigating Officer Lieutenant Kyle O’Regan.
“A very busy time followed, conducting training with Typhoon aircraft, winching with Chinook helicopters and still managing to fit in some survey operations.’’
The visit also allowed Enterprise to strike out for South Georgia, and after a choppy three-day journey across 800 miles of open sea, the ship’s company reached Gold Harbour.
There is little time for the ship to rest up, as she deploys again in July this year.