Royal Navy frigate HMS Monmouth returned to Plymouth today (Friday) to a heroes’ welcome after a highly successful nine-month deployment which included a major drugs bust and saving the life of a ship-wrecked sailor.
A banner-waving crowd of about 850 families and friends cheered, waved welcome banners and cried tears of joy to mark the homecoming in Devonport Naval Base. Joining them on the jetty was the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines and a tribute fly-past will be conducted by the ship’s Wildcat helicopter.
Since leaving Devonport in March, the ship has travelled over 40,000 miles through the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and wider Middle East regions. Her tasking has been varied, but concentrated on maritime security and international defence engagement, while always being at readiness to respond to any tasks on behalf of the UK Government.
HMS Monmouth’s captain, Commander Ian Feasey, was greeted on the jetty by his wife Caroline, daughter Maisie, 5, and parents Eileen and David, all of Devon. He said: “I’m hugely excited to be back, especially with Christmas imminent it makes it extra special. And to see all the hundreds of families and friends on the jetty is very uplifting and it get emotional.’’
He praised his crew and thanked families back home: “This has been a challenging and hugely varied deployment that has tested my ship and her company. Despite encountering temperatures nearing 50 degrees in the Gulf, my team have continued to deliver all that was asked of them. I’m very proud of them all. Throughout the deployment the ship’s company have represented themselves, the Royal Navy and their country with distinction.
“However, none of this would have been possible without the unstinting support of our families and loved ones back at home in UK who, arguably, had a much tougher job than us. I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for their perseverance, understanding and selfless support.”
HMS Monmouth’s crew is hosting 42 of their friends and family for a rare experience of life on a Royal Navy warship. They are sailing for the final few days of deployment, from Gibraltar to Plymouth. They were treated to demonstrations of much of the capability that HMS Monmouth has used on her deployment.
While on counter-narcotics patrols HMS Monmouth successfully seized three-quarters of a tonne of heroin hashish with an estimated street value of £65m; thus disrupting the flow of these drugs to the UK and Europe. The crew also assisted in the rescue of a lone survivor Indian sailor from a tanker which sunk in the Indian Ocean – without the swift action of the Wildcat helicopter the sailor would have drowned.
Able Seaman Lewis Ingram, of Portsmouth, was greeted by his wife Juliane, from Norway. He said: “This was a long and hard deployment which was rewarding. But it is really good to be back home and to see Juliane again. We have hardly seen each other in the past two years because she lived in Norway and I was here or training. Now she is studying in Portsmouth, so it makes coming home extra special.’’
He said the highlight of his first ever deployment was visiting Goa and training with the Indian Navy. Juliane said: “I’m very happy to see Lewis again and that is he safe after a long patrol. I missed him every day.’’
Milton-Gorvie, of Plymouth, known as ‘MG’ was hugged by his wife Linda and children Jason, 9, and Beryl, 14, as he stepped off his ship. MG, a caterer and first aider, said: “I’ve had a very busy time away with defence industry day and capability demonstrations on top of my normal day-to-day job. I’m so happy to be back with my family.’’
Linda said: “It’s been a very long nine months. I have a stressful job and a manager in a dementia care home and there were many days when I wished he was there to moan to. Now I’m looking forward to quality time as a family.’’
Jason said he was keen on playing football with his dad. Beryl wanted to go on days out with the whole family.
Engineer Jacob Hamid, 24, (deployed for three months), arrived off HMS Monmouth to be greeted by his girlfriend Bethan and their son Oliver, aged four months and Jacob’s mother Nicola. Bethan, from Cardiff, said: “Luckily Oliver was very kind to us and was born not long before Jacob left to join the ship. But obviously Jacob hasn’t seen him since then. I’ve been sending photos to him, so he’s kept up with the Oliver has he changes fast. So this is an extra special home coming for us all.’’
Newly promoted Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Smith (helicopter engineer) was welcomed home by wife Alice and their excited children Thomas, 2 years and Beatrice, 5 years. “The children have been very excited to see their daddy for a long time now. It seems like a long nine months. The first time he was deployed was only for four months. But there has been lots of phone and other contact. He’s back on duty on the ship soon, but off for Christmas which will be a special time.’’
HMS Monmouth’s sailors have worked tirelessly to maintain their ship’s defensive readiness and operational capability, both at sea and alongside, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in some of the most high-threat waters in the world. The operation is the UK’s contribution to a permanent presence in the Near and Middle East, comprising warships and aircraft in Oman and a naval headquarters in Bahrain.
HMS Monmouth also took part in two international coalition task forces to combat piracy against merchant vessels and other illegal use of the oceans off East Africa and in the Gulfs of Aden and Oman.
The ship has deployed for 270 days in extreme temperatures and not lost one day of tasking for any reason. Her tasking has included patrols in three strategic chokepoints in the Middle East; the Bab El-Mandeb Strait and the Strait of Hormuz, through which over 40 per cent of the world’s merchant traffic passes, and where the frigate helped to ensure the uninterrupted flow of global trade.
Interacting with armed forces or law-enforcement agencies, the Type 23 frigate has been tasked with a wide range of defence engagement activity, including a range of operations or exercises at sea and diplomatic or training events alongside. The crew will now proceed on an extended period of leave until the New Year before undergoing an extensive maintenance period in her home port to ensure she is ready to return to sea later in 2018.
Facts and figures on the deployment: The crew consumed 2,400 x 3KG tins of baked beans – Enough to fill 10 standard bathtubs, 56,000 sausages – this amount laid out would cover the length of the ship over 50 times, 90,000 eggs – equivalent of making 30,000 omelettes (3 egg) and 60,000 kg of potatoes – this is approximately 480,000 potatoes, which works out as 2285 potatoes per person over the deployment. This equates to roughly 8 potatoes a day for each member of the crew. The ship can make its own water – almost the equivalent of two Olympic size swimming pools was used.